Dr. Gloria Onyeoziri: Lending a Helping Hand

Some professors have made their names with their ability to liven tedious lectures with sidesplitting comedy routines, or bizarre life stories. Professor Gloria Onyeoziri, who started teaching at UBC in 1994, is known for her steadfast kindness and encouragement.

The professor of French, specializing in African and Caribbean literature, will gently grill her students with questions in class.

“That’s good, just go on,” she presses those who are onto something. “Dig, dig, dig, deeper, try to get more of it.”

And when she senses students have missed an important point, she redirects them with more questions.

It’s her way of drawing out exactly what students think, because she earnestly wants to know. Onyeoziri’s supportive attitude extends beyond class.

Originally from Nigeria, she has fervently rallied alongside undergraduate-led Africa Awareness, a student group that advocates African history and ideas in the UBC curriculum. When UBC started a minor in African studies in 2006, Onyeoziri celebrated, too.

“Sometimes I forget I’m on the faculty, I just see myself as a student,” Onyeoziri says.

Those who have studied with her note her caring method in the classroom.

Teaching is uniquely complicated for Onyeoziri, who completed her teaching certification and a Bachelor in French in Nigeria before heading to the University of Toronto for her Master’s and a PhD.

Unlike any other professor at UBC, Onyeoziri is totally blind, and has been since the end of high school.

“Sometimes it’s not very easy for a blind person to teach,” she says, describing the challenge of being unable to see students when, for example, she hears someone leave class early.

“As a blind person, you’re wondering why they are doing that, who is that person, is it someone who is usually in class? So it’s a bit difficult, but I’ve learnt over time to overcome it,” says Onyeoziri, who listens to recorded versions of books or articles she needs and takes notes in Brailie.

Usually Onyeoziri teaches in French, but this year she started covering texts in translation, too, leading a course called “Disenfranchisement and Strategies of Resistance in African and Caribbean Literatures.”

The course is her little piece of the puzzle when it comes to including Africa in the curriculum at UBC.

Onyeoziri says the reading material exposes the diversity of the African experience, allowing students to “hear the voice of African writers as different from the stereotypes you may get.”

The professor chooses close reading as her technique of choice. “It brings out the thoughts, the thinking of African thinkers, if I may be tautological about it.”

“Students who have taken my course always say, ‘It’s so different from what I have studied so far.’”

Though she brims with her own thoughts on the texts at hand, Onyeoziri is much more concerned about her students’ interpretations.

It boils down to her core philosophy inside and outside of the classroom: students deserve just as much space to stretch out their opinions as she, or anyone else does.

“When they begin to speak, they bring out ideas that you’ve never even thought about yourself,” she says.

Read more about about Onyeoziri here.

By Josephine Anderson, an English major at UBC.

2010