Department News

Department News

Ethnic Studies Continuing Lecturer Victoria Robinson wins the 2024 UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award

April 18, 2024

April 15, 2024

Ethnic Studies Continuing Lecturer and American Cultures Program Director Victoria Robinson was named a recipient of the 2024 Distinguished Teaching Award (DTA)(link is external), UC Berkeley’s highest honor. The DTA recognizes faculty who consistently do an outstanding job teaching and inspiring their students. These faculty members not only make learning exciting but also help their students and fellow faculty see how classroom lessons connect to the real world. Award recipients receive a financial prize, recognition from the Academic Senate, a public ceremony on April 23, a permanent listing in the university catalog, and are frequently consulted on on-campus teaching matters.

Robinson spoke to Berkeley Social Sciences about the prestigious award and her academic career. The interview is edited for clarity.

Tell us more about yourself and your background.
Victoria Robinson: I’m from England. I was born on the Welsh border across from the West Midlands, and I’m the daughter of a farming family. I came to the U.S. as an exchange student for one year at UC Berkeley when I was doing my undergraduate degree, and lived at the International House where I met my now husband.

I went back to England and started a doctoral program program in political and cultural geography at Queen Mary College, University of London. When I completed my postgraduate studies, I came back to California and my work went in a different direction. I began looking at the effects of militarization of the border and border-building projects in the Southwest, but most importantly, how communities were navigating those new kinds of state projects. I was doing that work with the Public Policy Institute of California. And then I was asked to teach at Berkeley in the Department of Ethnic Studies, and it’s been wonderful.

What is your reaction to winning the 2024 Distinguished Teaching Award(link is external)
Victoria Robinson: Astounded, overwhelmed and just very honored. One of my oldest friends, Steve Tollefson, who’s no longer with us, was one of the first people to organize the DTA. He was director of the Office of Educational Development and an instructor in the College Writing Program. And I could see through his eyes just how exciting it was to be part of this community of teachers. But I never thought it was going to be me as part of that DTA community of scholars. I am humbled to receive it. It just feels incredible to be recognized by the students because I absolutely love teaching. It gives me shivers up my spine. 

Why did you think you were chosen?
Victoria Robinson: I’d love to find out. I don’t know. You know, I haven’t really heard feedback from the committee yet, but I mean, I am fortunate to teach in the Department of Ethnic Studies where teaching is so centrally part of our tools to unsettle inherited racial capitalism, carceral violence and white supremacy. I think back to a quote from my department chair, Keith Feldman, “It’s always a good time for Ethnic Studies, but right now it’s a really good time for Ethnic Studies.” And I think students are drawn to the idea of really thinking hard about the hardest problems we might have in our lives, especially now. Students are making the connections between many struggles between local communities and transnationally. And they are also coming up with collective approaches, if not solutions, with amazing imagination and drive. So maybe that’s why. Together, my students and I, we seem to be able to forge something pretty special in understanding that we can fight and build our way out of injustice and multiple forms of violence and into liveable and joyful futures.

What do you like most about teaching at UC Berkeley?
Victoria Robinson: Yeah, I mean, our Ethnic Studies students are bringing so much with them into the University. The students are coming and their communities come with them, and they know that we have important work to do, and they have an abundance of ideas of rich assets that we can draw from. And we are in the Bay Area. Talk about a richness of histories and peoples. I center my focus on my teaching, critical carceral studies and prison abolition. Oftentimes students are organizers in those spaces. 

I love being able to work alongside such passionate students who are looking for liberation and racial justice in many different ways.  And that’s inspiring. But then I also get to teach American Cultures(link is external) courses, “AC classes,” which means that I have students from all different majors in my class. By making it fun, they’ll also start to feel the opportunity to sit back and have a great exchange and conversation around ideas they may not have even thought they wanted to talk about. It’s wonderful to be in comradeship with Ethnic Studies students while also having deep, exciting and often unexpected conversations with students taking the class for AC. So those two sides of the teaching — the diverse community of my Ethnic Studies students and comradeship with different students in my AC classes — are always exciting environments to be in.

Lastly, being around all of my colleagues across the campus  — my Ethnic Studies colleagues, my Librarian colleagues — and being able to chat with them all the time is so inspiring. Seeing everybody trying to come up with ways to make their classrooms even better is even more exciting. So it’s just a rich place to teach in Berkeley. You name a subject space — housing justice, education, environmental, prison abolition, etc. — and we have a plethora of organizers, activists, scholars and movement makers to be in partnership with.

What do you like most about your students?
Victoria Robinson: That’s a tough question, there’s so much. My favorite time with students is after Spring Break. They’ll come back and say, “Oh my gosh Professor Robinson, I had this conversation from class with friends.” And you know, I have students take readings from class and send them to their parents and go, “I just need to have a chat with my mom about this, that will be fun, perhaps :>)” And that feels so wonderful when their excitement is also coming into, you know, their larger social circles. They want to share. That feels like public education.