Meet Carmen Wickramagamage: University LecturerDecember 19, 2008
Carmen Wickramagamage, a 1991–92 International Fellow, combines her experiences here in the United States and in her homeland to raise awareness about women and minorities in her native Sri Lanka. After graduating from the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka with a bachelor’s degree, Carmen worked as a lecturer in the English department for 2-½ years before coming to the United States to pursue postgraduate work.
During her seven years here, Carmen was awarded an AAUW International Fellowship. As a result, she met with two AAUW branches: Walla Walla, Washington, and Honolulu, Hawaii. She was “amazed and impressed by the desire for solidarity along gender lines that the existence of such branches signified,” and she was inspired to see “educated women getting together to help other women reach their goals.”
Since returning to Sri Lanka, Carmen has been raising awareness about women and minorities in her country. She is currently working on a Fulbright Scholarship translation project titled “Multicultural America,” which stemmed from what Carmen observed as superficial views of Americans held by the majority of Sri Lankans. Her goal is to offer insights into this “other” America by translating selected fiction texts from a variety of multicultural authors into her first language, Sinhala. Carmen sees these texts as offering a non-traditional literary perspective compared with the more commonly accessed mainstream and popular media through which Sri Lankans typically form their views of Americans.
Carmen currently serves as a senior lecturer and head of the English department at the University of Peradeniya. In the next year, she hopes to apply for full professorship, a rare position in the faculty of arts at the university. She is also looking to write a book about the “role of popular culture in the invention of feminine identities and the life options of women in contemporary Sri Lanka.” This book would expand on her dissertation research, which used novels by Anita Desai and Bharati Mukherjee to deconstruct traditional images of Third World women. “I intervene in this discourse,” explains Carmen, “by highlighting the differences among women by class, caste, religion, and location.”
The recent civil war in Sri Lanka has turned the country’s focus away from issues affecting native women. “The inequalities among women, along ethnic and religious lines, have only become more evident and exacerbated due to the war,” says Carmen. “The fear and anxiety produced by the war in conjunction with a heightened sense of ethnic identities has essentially rendered questions among class and gender lines irrelevant.”
While Carmen does not regularly teach women’s studies courses in Sri Lanka, she does offer a course to university students from the United States who come to the University of Peradeniya through a foreign exchange program. The class, titled “Images of the Feminine and the Social Experiences of Women in Sri Lanka,” offers the students insights about gender status quo in Sri Lanka.
When asked what advice she would offer to women pursuing higher education, Carmen replies, “Your example is important to other women debating the possibility of higher education, and your achievements chip away at the many glass ceilings that face women who break into traditionally masculine domains.”