From small town roots

From small town roots

06/02/2023 

Today, anthropologist Suad Joseph ’66, Ph.D., an international leader of the study of the role of women in the Middle East, continues to break ground as a researcher, speaker and educator in the field.

She remembers and respects how — as a Cortland girl in a large Lebanese immigrant family — teachers and college professors helped her embark on that lifetime of academic and career success.

“We were in a small town,” said Joseph, a current distinguished research professor of anthropology and women and gender studies at the University of California, Davis. “We were children of hard-working parents and stood out.”

Her father, Samuel Joseph, worked in the Wickwire factory while her mother, Rose Joseph, worked in the Crescent Corset Company. Both parents, in this family of seven children, valued education in the Lebanese tradition but could not afford to send any of them to college.

However, different Cortland schoolteachers took an interest in the Joseph offspring, giving them extra assignments and attention outside of class and raising enough money in the community to send the two oldest brothers to Union College, with a third brother joining later. All worked their way through college.

The more sheltered Joseph daughters enrolled at SUNY Cortland.

“At every step of the way, I had teachers who made me feel like I could do something special,” Joseph said. “I was just very lucky. The same thing happened in college and graduate school.”

In those days, undergraduate research wasn’t available at SUNY Cortland. However, one history professor asked students to write a research paper on any related topic they wanted.

“Most of the students went to the library, but I decided to do interviews of the Lebanese people in the Cortland community, the older Lebanese community,” Joseph said.

“He sent the paper to the New York State Folklore Quarterly and it was published. I first became published as a sophomore at SUNY Cortland. The Cortland Democrat republished it. It was the first research study of the Lebanese community in Cortland. That was pure research, but I wasn’t mentored, it was a class paper.”

Joseph, a 1994 SUNY Cortland Alumni Association Distinguished Alumna and a 2012 SUNY Cortland Academic Hall of Fame inductee, graduated from SUNY Cortland magna cum laude in secondary social studies.

She went on to earn her doctorate in anthropology at Columbia University. A faculty member at U.C. Davis since 1976, she is the founder and founding director of the institution’s Middle East/South Asia Studies Program, established in 2004. For her teaching and research, the university presented its highest teaching honor to her, the U.C. Davis Prize, in 2014.

“That meant a lot to me,” she said.

“I’m very proud of founding the program because now these heritage students have a home, a place where they are recognized for their culture and history.”

Joseph also received the California University system’s 2012 Chancellor’s Achievement Award for Diversity and Community. In addition, she has earned lifetime achievement awards from the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies, the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association, the Arab-American Studies Association, all three of which she founded or co-founded; and the Middle East Association of North America, of which she was elected president in 2010. She also founded the University of California Davis Arab Region Consortium (UCDAR), a partnership of six universities from Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine and United Arab Emirates. She is the author of more than a dozen published books and more than 100 academic articles.

In gratitude to SUNY Cortland for the education and experiences she received, Joseph recently donated $100,000 to establish an endowment to annually support a $4,000 stipend for one student as a Summer Fellow through the university’s Undergraduate Research Council. The award is reserved for undergraduates majoring in sociology, anthropology, philosophy, or history; or minoring in women’s, gender and sexuality studies.

“The more we can train students in how to do research, the more we will have a citizenry that has the capacity for critical thinking,” Joseph said.

The Dr. Suad Joseph ’66 Undergraduate Research Summer Fellowship also honors her parents, Rose and Samuel Joseph.

“They were two of the most brilliant people I have ever known in my life,” Joseph said.


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