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Feminist relishes roles as student, activist

Jessie Kabwila Kapasula approaches feminism both as an academic and as an activist.

Kapasula, 40, a doctoral student in comparative literature, works with a social support network in her native Malawi that deals with HIV/AIDS issues as well as violence against women.

Kapasula left Malawi for Zimbabwe when she was 6, then returned to her home country for college. She earned two degrees in education from Chancellor College in  Zomba before taking a teaching job in Botswana.

Kapasula returned to Malawi to teach and work on a master’s degree at Chancellor College, where she became president of the staff academic union. She led a fight that resulted in a 62 percent pay increase.

When she decided to pursue a doctorate, Kapasula wanted to prove herself at another university. She came to the United States because she believes it’s the best place to study the roots of feminism and the associated race and class issues.

“Here I can study it openly,” said Kapasula, a passionate and talkative woman with firm ideas about justice and fairness.

She came to Binghamton in the fall of 2006 with an American Association of University Women fellowship. Her goal is to complete her doctorate in three years so she can return to Malawi and resume working on behalf of women there.

Kapasula, now president of the African Graduate Student Organization, is teaching a class on African feminism this year at Binghamton.

She’s also looking forward to the arrival of her husband and her 15-year-old daughter, who’ve had trouble getting visas for the journey.

Kapasula credits her mother, who is a curriculum specialist, with encouraging her to pursue advanced degrees. “She’s pushed me to achieve more,” Kapasula said. “I’ve learned to aim very high.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08