Anthropologist Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban retires from RIC

Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban
Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, anthropologist and professor of anthropology at Rhode Island College since 1972, hasn’t limited her career to just teaching over the last 40 years.

Fluehr-Lobban has traveled to study and live in places around the world, including Sudan and Egypt, and twice sailed the world to teach with the University of Pittsburgh’s Semester at Sea Program. She has used her travels to write and edit over a dozen text books and three dozen articles, and always connected outside research to events inside her classes.

After RIC’s 2011 spring semester, Fluehr-Lobban retired, marking the end of her full-time teaching career at the college.

Fluehr-Lobban has given major lectures on her research at multiple universities and co-founded the Sudan Studies Association (SSA) with her husband, Richard Lobban, also a former anthropology professor at RIC.

Fluehr-Lobban was initially hired at RIC for a dual-position with her husband. They each received full-time teaching positions at the college the following year.

Since she began teaching, Fluehr-Lobban has taken five sabbatical leaves.

“Anthropologists spend a long amount of time in the places that they study,” said Fluehr-Lobban. “When we came here, we already had a couple of years of research.”

Fluehr-Lobban is fluent in Arabic and conducts most of her research abroad in the language.

She spent four sabbaticals in Sudan and Egypt, and the other in Tunisia.

“Sudan has been through a rough period,” said Fluehr-Lobban. “There was about 15 years where we did not go to Sudan, but we have returned since the peace process in 2005, and are actively researching again.”

While studying in Khartoum, Sudan, in July 1971, the year before Fluehr-Lobban and her husband were hired at RIC, Shari’a law (a traditionally Islamic religious law) had been imposed on Sudan, though one-third of the population wasn’t Muslim. The implementation of Shari’a law was extremely controversial and contributed to Sudanese civil war.

Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban and her husband, Richard Lobban, in front of a likeness of King Tut.
It was on this trip to Khartoum that Fluehr-Lobban and her husband experienced and survived one of their most dangerous experiences to date, a coup d’état, where the Sudanese military overthrew the government of President Gaafar Nimeiry.

When the Nimeiry government returned to power three days later, it became violent and bloody. Fluehr-Lobban and her husband, who were journalists covering the story for a local newspaper at the time, ended up in the midst of tanks firing around them.

“I remember thinking, ‘well, I hope I just get hit in the leg and that’s all,’” said Fluehr-Lobban. “We weren’t being shot at, but we could have definitely been hit by some stray bullets.”

“When you’re in the midst of danger, you don’t recognize it,” added Fluehr-Lobban.

The conflict ended with a peace agreement in January 2005, where non-Muslims divided from the remaining population. In July 2011, Sudan will officially separate into North Sudan and South Sudan.

In 1984, Fluehr-Lobban co-founded and was twice past-president the Sudan Studies Association (SSA) at RIC, a North-American based association with about 300 members which promotes the scholarly study of Sudan. The SSA is the only major international academic organization focused on Sudan.

Fluehr-Lobban has also done research on family law, homicide and other issues relating to law and society, which have been the basis for several text books she has written.

“The places that we’ve worked – Sudan, Egypt and Tunisia – are heavily represented [in the text books],” said Fluehr-Lobban. She authored “Race and Racism” which she has used in basic anthropology courses, and in an advanced seminar in critical race theory at RIC.

Fluehr-Lobban has also taught a number of courses on gender at the college. One of the founders of the Woman’s Studies Program, she taught the first course on women around the world, and co-authored a text book specifically for the class.

Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban speaks at an Arabic conference.
One of the most memorable excursions for Fluehr-Lobban has been traveling at sea. Fluehr-Lobban taught anthropology aboard the SS Universe for a four-month voyage with her husband and two daughters in the spring of 1986, which took her through the Mediterranean, India, China and Japan, and another four-month trip she made alone in 1996 that went through the Caribbean, South America, South Africa and Asia.

“I went to places I never would have gone,” said Fluehr-Lobban. “That was a highlight of many highlights. I always say, ‘it’s my job to travel the world,’ … and of course, it enriches classes here.”

Fluehr-Lobban’s extensive traveling and experiences have greatly contributed to many core three and four classes, especially in a course she taught in the spring, Arab-Islamic Culture in the West.

“I’ve never seen [the students] come alive like they did this semester,” said Fluehr-Lobban, who wrote a text book specifically for the course, titled “Islamic Societies in Practice.”

An extraordinary group of hard working doctoral students, as well as masters and undergraduate students populated the critical race theory course, said Fluehr-Lobban.

“The class was so exceptional that we decided we should do a book,” she said. The text, “Oppression Can Drive a Sane Person Mad,” will feature her student’s essays in critical race theory.

“It really is exciting,” said Fluehr-Lobban. “It’s one of the last projects that I’m going to do as a faculty member … it’s one of the great ways to leave.”

One thing that Fluehr-Lobban continues to advocate to her colleagues is the balancing of teaching and research.

“My teaching has been so much enhanced by these research experiences,” she said. “We have this opposition where you’re either the researcher or the teacher … they’re not mutually exclusive. They’re mutually reinforcing.”

“It inspires. It inspires faculty, and it inspires students,” said Fluehr-Lobban.

One of Fluehr-Lobban’s former students, Heather Mello ‘11, is going to teach primary school at the Khartoum International School in Sudan, where Fluehr-Lobban will be visiting.

"My teaching has been so much enhanced by these research experiences. We have this opposition where you’re either the researcher or the teacher … they’re not mutually exclusive. They’re mutually reinforcing."
-Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban
“When you realize that anything is possible, if you just have a dream and someone says, ‘yes, you can do that,’ and not, ‘don’t do that,’ anything can happen,” said Fluehr-Lobban.

Fluehr-Lobban will be working on a new textbook in anthropology and ethics after returning from Dubrovnik, Croatia, where she and her husband will be attending an anthropology and health conference.

Despite traveling around the world, Fluehr-Lobban still feels that her most exciting adventures have taken place in the classroom. “To the very last class, I’m still having fun. I still really love teaching,” said Fluehr-Lobban.

Fluehr-Lobban also received the Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1990 and Distinguished Scholar in 1998, directed RIC’s general education program for 10 years, and wrote a number of articles for Issues in Teaching and Learning, an online journal at RIC.