- An anthropologist.
- A museum curator.
- Someone who sets high expectations.
- Forging relationships with Native communities.
- Showing my students what they’re capable of.
Leading the Conversation
Professor Rebecca Dobkins helps her students examine some of life’s greatest questions.
"My approach to teaching is fundamentally a question-posing one," anthropology Professor Rebecca Dobkins says. "I present my material as a series of questions or problems that the students and I explore together.
"I try to convey to students that they, too, are part of the ongoing questions facing our society — What is cultural identity? Why is there inequality? What's the nature of human creativity? These are questions people have been engaging with for millennia."
And they are questions students can expect to debate in Dobkins' classes, with her as their guide.
"As a professor, I walk alongside students, help them shape their own educations, and help them identify values that they want to work toward their whole life," she says. "One of the most important things I can pass on to my students is a sense of expanded possibilities, by helping them find capabilities they didn't even know they had."
Sharing Native Culture
Dobkins has dedicated her scholarly work to studying the art of Native American communities, and her passion for the topic comes through in the classroom.
"Professor Dobkins is very interested in her subject material, and it shows when she teaches," Emily Mitchell '10 says. "She is very engaging when she leads discussions, and she helps you see your reading and your lessons in new ways."
Fostering understanding between Native communities and the public has long been Dobkins' goal, and at Willamette, she has successfully nurtured relationships between the university and the region's tribes.
She has curated 14 Native art exhibitions at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, and she organized the Indian Country Conversations lecture series to address issues facing Native communities.
Dobkins also started a program for Willamette undergraduates to tutor students at Chemawa Indian School in Salem.
"There is an enormous gap between the lives of many American Indian people and nearly everyone else," she says. "There's a saying that Native Americans are familiar strangers. Their presence is everywhere, but the public isn't aware of the Native world all around us."
Art of Ceremony
One of Dobkins' most notable museum exhibitions was the 2008 show The Art of Ceremony, which featured regalia from all nine of Oregon's federally recognized tribes.
The exhibition included headdresses, staffs, drums, necklaces and other pieces that the tribes use in their private ceremonies - items rarely seen by the general public.
To the tribes, the regalia are as important as the celebrations themselves.
"Art is the human imagination at work in dialogue with traditions and the past," Dobkins says. "These pieces are very much part of a living ceremony, but they also stand on their own as beautiful and animated works of art."
ABOUT REBECCA DOBKINS
- PhD, University of California, Berkeley
- Courses include Native North American cultures; museum studies; indigenous peoples, human rights and the environment; and a College Colloquium course, "Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples"
- Curates contemporary and traditional Native American art exhibitions at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art
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