Theresa Hice-Fromille, a sociology doctoral candidate at UC Santa Cruz, was recently one of the top five nationally selected scholars for the American Sociological Association’s 2022-2023 Minority Fellowship Program . The funding will support her thesis research on black women-led overseas travel programs that focus on teaching African diaspora youth.
Hice-Fromille has won several awards recognizing the importance of this research, including the American Association of University Women’s Dissertation Fellowship and the UC President’s Dissertation Year Fellowship. She also received support from the Institute of Humanities at UC Santa Cruz. She said she looks forward to the time spent on her research that the fellowships will allow. She is currently preparing for the final phase of her fieldwork, a trip to Costa Rica with a group of black youth and mentors from Baltimore.
Hice-Fromille conducts community-oriented research, which means that its work is designed in partnership with and in service of community organizations. She first became interested in studying foreign travel when she volunteered as a mentor with an organization in Oakland that planned trips for local black youth. After traveling to South Africa with the group, she was so inspired by the unique mentorship and learning she saw taking place between black women and girls that it became the focus of her research.
She then contacted a similar organization in Baltimore and has since worked with youth and leaders from both programs to understand how meaningful overseas travel experiences are cultivated and what impacts they can have on black youth and their communities. Hice-Fromille addresses these issues through a queer black feminist framework that recognizes the long history of black women’s leadership in community building across the African diaspora. She also documents how curriculum design differs from school settings by being rooted in the collaborative networks and cultural traditions of Black communities.
In particular, she says, the planning process for travel programs usually begins with the leaders’ own knowledge and the special interests of the young participants. From there, program leaders reach out to friends, family, and community elders, both in the United States and abroad, to connect with young people and share their knowledge and skills.
“A big part of that curriculum building process is ‘youth work,’ which is a legacy in black communities of shared parenting and shared care for young people,” Hice-Fromille said. “Foreign travel programs show how diasporic this is, as the women who run them rely on international networks to ‘mother’ and support these young black people.”
Through international travel, young people see connections between black people in their own cities and across the African diaspora and begin to develop a sense of global black community, Hice-Fromille says. But the differences in lifestyles and ways of relating between black communities also teach young people to imagine new futures for themselves.
“Often, young people begin by thinking that a better future means leaving the city they come from, and the leaders of these trips work hard to show them that the problems they face in their communities are in fact systemic problems. and global, but there are other ways people encounter and resist them in other communities,” Hice-Fromille explained. “It expands their imagination of what it means to be black as a politician and covering the world.”
The young participants often return from their travels with ideas of changes they would like to make in their lives, based on their experiences abroad, such as eating more fruit and vegetables, for example. But they find the same material conditions in their communities, including major barriers, such as inequitable access to healthy, fresh and affordable food. Group leaders help young people find ways to challenge these realities and bring about change by getting involved in local politics and other community service organizations. And travel lessons can help.
“What they learn about survival, resistance and solidarity struggle is the real impact when they return,” Hice-Fromille said. “And that’s important to me because it has so much to do with what the diaspora is as a political project.”