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Alum of the Week

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Jelena Radovic Fanta

Academic Year Adjunct Lecturer at Santa Clara University

My time spent as a student in the Casa program in El Salvador was profoundly transformative and still informs my life more than 10 years later. I was immersed in a reality of everyday economic challenges, where the legacy of a violent civil war was palpable, and where hope and community were continuously built one day after the other. I learned how people struggle to make do and strive for justice, not through textbooks and articles but through engaging in our praxis sites, living in community with fellow students, and sharing quotidian activities and conversations with Salvadorans who became dear friends.

Taking classes in the Casa and the UCA (Universidad Centroamericana) we unpacked the economic, political, and religious processes in order to critically explore and bridge the realms of academia and social reality. Living in community with fellow students as we tackled these issues was a key element in our experiences and growth. I was also deeply inspired by the legacy of women and men who dedicated their lives⎯and oftentimes lost them⎯to the pursuit of fighting injustice, poverty, and human rights violations. This did not remain confined to El Salvador, but has shaped the paths I have taken along with other Casa alums to communities around the world.

I am from Viña del Mar, Chile and arrived to the United States for my undergraduate studies at Santa Clara University. I stumbled into an Anthropology course as a sophomore, became enamored of the discipline, and graduated with a double major in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. As a junior I studied abroad in El Salvador and returned to the Casa program after graduation to work as a Community Facilitator. During that year I accompanied students in their study abroad experience and volunteered at a human rights NGO Pro-Búsqueda that investigates the cases of disappeared children during the civil war.

I subsequently began my doctoral studies in Anthropology at University of California, Riverside. I formed part of a stimulating community of scholars, thinkers, and activists that explored questions of society, politics, and how humans give meaning to their lives. During graduate school I discovered a passion for teaching and engaging students as they grapple with inquiries of who we are and how we shape the society we live in. As a graduate student I returned to Chile for two years to carry out doctoral research, partially funded by the Inter-American Foundation. My dissertation investigates the lived experiences of female seasonal laborers who work in fruit packing plants in Chile’s Aconcagua Valley. Specifically, I examine the effects of precarious working conditions, neoliberal labor regimes, and cyclical un/employment patterns on women’s subjectivities. During this time I also worked as a consultant on gender and labor issues faced by seasonal workers. I completed my Ph.D. in December 2012 and subsequently worked as an adjunct lecturer at the Anthropology Department of UC Riverside, where I taught Political Anthropology and introductory Cultural Anthropology courses.

I recently moved back to northern California and am employed as a lecturer at Santa Clara University. I teach courses on Latin America, gender, and social change in the Anthropology and Sociology Departments. It has been very positive to be closer to the Santa Clara and Casa communities. For prospective students considering enrolling in the Program, I highly encourage you to find out more about it and speak to students who have already gone. I was challenged to live and critically examine issues of poverty, inequities, development, and community; these are questions that I am still exploring to this day. Without a doubt, the Casa program still plays a fundamental role in my professional and personal endeavors.

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