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Visiting lecturer Lory Dance - Minorities researcher with fighting spirit

29 April 2011

Sociologist Lory Dance currently works at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, but will mo

Lory Dance has unique experience of ethnic minorities from both the USA and Sweden. After several years as a regular guest lecturer at CTR, the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, an opportunity arose to get her on the staff. Women are in the minority in leading positions at CTR and Lory Dance was an obvious candidate for a post financed with Hedda funds.

LUM meets sociologist Lory Dance in a deserted corridor at the SOL Centre. Her former neighbours from the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies have just moved out. Now they want Lory Dance to follow. But first, she has six months of teaching to do on the programme in Human Rights, which falls under CTR.

Lory Dance conducts research on the schooling of ethnic minority and immigrant children. She has studied both Latino youths in Boston and teenage immigrants in Kroksbäck in Malmö and Angered in Gothenburg. In addition, she speaks Swedish. Her interest in Sweden was born when she taught the martial art tae kwon do (in which she has been American champion) and became good friends with one of her pupils, who was Swedish.

Lory Dance is an Afro-American and grew up in a poor home with a single mother.
“She got in extra ‘mums’ to provide what she couldn’t give me”, she says.
Dr Dance’s mother was determined that her daughter would go to university, but she has her French teacher to thank for the fact that it became the well-renowned Georgetown and then Harvard. From her own experience, she knows that the right support from home and school is crucial to success. But what is the right support? What is required of teachers who work with children from ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups?

Lory Dance’s research indicates certain things that are common to all good teachers; they should set demands and have high expectations of their pupils, as long as the demands are fair and based on the children’s circumstances. Another characteristic of a good teacher is that he or she makes the child feel that they are noticed.

In the American schools where Lory Dance has studied vulnerable ethnic minorities, at least 75 per cent of pupils say that they do not feel they receive support from the teacher. In Sweden the figures are better, she explains. The children really believe that the teachers want the best for them, but they still think they have poor contact with the teachers and that the teachers have poor insight into the pupils’ situations.

“I think this is an important explanation as to why schools often fail in their task to educate young people from immigrant backgrounds”, says Lory Dance. “When I have pointed this out in Swedish schools, the teachers agree with me. But they claim that they don’t have a forum to discuss this type of issue. It is simply not part of the teachers’ job description to ‘make good contact’ with the pupils.”

In another of her studies, Lory Dance asked American schoolchildren if it was important for them that their teacher came from the same ethnic background as themselves. She thought it would be important to them to have role models from their own ethnic group, but it turned out she was wrong. Instead, what was most appreciated was the teacher’s ability to treat the pupils as individuals and not as stereotypes.

After Dr Dance’s post as a visiting lecturer in human rights comes to an end, she will lead a research project on immigrants from the Middle East in Sweden.

“I am interested in research on minorities, whether the minority comes from the Middle East or somewhere else is less important”, she says. Social networks will be studied, primarily between different immigrant groups and with Swedish society, but also networks within one minority group and on a global level.

In July Lory Dance will be moving to the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies’ new premises a few streets away. She will stay there for at least a year, and preferably a lot longer if her colleagues get to decide.

- Ulrika Oredsson