N o challenge is too big for Deborah Winslow. Not even one from Richard Nixon and the Indian government.

In the early 1970s when she was denied her request for a visa to study the country’s weekly market system, Winslow knew it was the president’s involvement in the war between India and Pakistan that caused retaliation by the Indian government.

But instead of getting frustrated, she got busy. Putting aside undergraduate experience in India, a year of intensive language study, and guaranteed funding, she rewrote her dissertation proposal and worked the phones until she found an embassy that would welcome American researchers.

Twenty-seven years later, a small Sri Lankan potter village is her home away from home. She’s studied the impact of changes in the national economic policy on the village, and will return soon to look at the consequences of the country’s declining birth rate. Because public transportation is dangerous and unreliable, she rents a car when she’s there and shares it with the villagers. It is her way of saying thanks, along with lending money and helping with basic first aid.

Winslow brings the same tenacity to her teaching. So when Robyn Vockrodt, one of her senior thesis students, expressed doubts about dowsing as a topic—the use of a divining rod to locate something, most commonly water—because she didn’t have transportation, Winslow handed over the spare set of keys to her own car.

“Deb is more than just a professor,” Vockrodt says. “You might laugh, but I mean it when I say she fixed my whole life in one semester. I had her spare set of car keys for the whole semester. When I got stuck in my research, she would send me to her office to borrow a book. She always knows just what to say to keep you from giving up.

“Her expectations are high and I’ve had to work hard,” she adds, “but she motivates you. You don’t want to let Deb down.”

And she doesn’t let them down. When it came time to decide whether to continue working with her four senior thesis students while on sabbatical, Winslow says she never considered turning them over to another professor.

“When I’ve taken other semesters off and not had contact with students I got depressed,” she says. “Going into the classroom can cure anything.”

Nicole Soucy, another one of her advisees, says Winslow “really wants us to learn, and encourages us to take the extra step, do something you’d never do on your own. She’s pushed me to get my thesis published, and I was joking around about wanting to send it to Renato Rosaldo, who’s my hero. He’s this famous anthropologist, and she just pulls out a pen and writes down his address for me.”

Winslow has found a balance between nurturing her students and treating them like colleagues.

“Although I’m critiquing their work and pushing them, I think of them as able to read or do anything I can read or do. They are doing real research, finding out things that no one else has. Like Nicole. She spent a lot of time with a group of women in Nashua looking at their experiences as immigrants from Latin American countries. It’s really good work.”

Winslow is confident she has the best of both worlds.

“Anthropology is the chance to stand outside your own society, to see what you like and don’t like, to see what it looks like to others,” she says. “And when you’re in a discipline that you love, what could be better than teaching it and sharing it with others. You have a captive audience and a chance to convince them that it’s as great as you think it is.”

—Erika L. Mantz, UNH News Bureau


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College of Liberal Arts, Deborah Winslow

Deborah Winslow with students at Dimond Library

Deborah Winslow, associate professor of anthropology, College of Liberal Arts, with students Nicole Soucy and Robyn Vockrodt, Dimond Library, University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H.


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