Professor Juliana Restrepo Sanin swapped the forests and mountains of Colorado for the swamps and humidity of Florida when she came to Gainesville in the fall of 2019. After six months here at the University of Florida, we decided to check in on how her first semester went, what her plans for the future are, and how she spends her time when not in the classroom.
So, what first got you interested in pursuing a career in political science?
Thinking beyond political science, I knew I wanted to work in academia. Back in Colombia I got my bachelor’s degree in journalism, but I realized halfway through what I wanted to do was research because the tight deadlines in journalism didn’t appeal to me. I got a master’s in history but that didn’t end up appealing to me either. But when I did my thesis on women’s representation in magazines, I started looking at how women’s magazines talked about women and political issues. This got me interested in politics and women’s participation in politics, and it’s what inspired me to get my PhD in political science from Rutgers with an emphasis on gender and politics.
Can you tell me more about how you chose your area of focus (gender and politics)?
During my thesis, I remember one of the biggest women’s magazines in Colombia was talking about women’s right to vote. Some women at the time didn’t think about these things, they said their husbands’ vote represented theirs. But the women in this magazine were saying “no- men don’t know our interests” and asking why we [women] don’t get to decide education or childcare policies. I found it so interesting and as I looked into it more I couldn’t believe the arguments against giving women the right to vote. Opponents were saying things like the world will come to an end if women get the right to vote, and I just wanted to learn more.
What made you want to become a professor?
I started teaching in Colombia because research is constrained there if you don’t teach. After I left, I continued wanting to do research, and I enjoy teaching too. It is hard, but it’s fun because it is interesting to see the world through the students eyes.
If you weren’t a professor what would you be doing?
I’ve thought about it and I don’t see myself doing anything else for work. I would love to learn art–I’m not good at drawing but I would want to learn. Right now, I knit. After my first two weeks of my PhD program, my husband told me to get a hobby, so I didn’t burn out. I remember I saw a classmate knitting and I was surprised because I thought it was something grandmas do, but I knit a lot now. So if I wasn’t doing research, I would want to do something creative or crafty.
What made you want to come to the University of Florida?
I really liked that the position I applied for was on gender and politics and the University wanted people doing feminist and gender politics work. When I came to interview, everyone was very nice and it felt like a supportive department. I really liked feeling warm after being in New Jersey and Colorado.
What’s a goal you have for this semester?
To submit a few papers and by the end of the summer finish my book.
What’s one thing about UF that surprised you?
This is not UF, but the airport here. It’s so small! It’s great because you won’t miss your flight and Gainesville is a small town, so I was surprised it had an airport, but it [the airport] took me back to Colombia because it was so small- it was just funny.
What’s one thing you like about UF?
One thing I liked was the sense of belonging and how proud people are of the school. I don’t follow sports, but I like how proud the students are of their sports teams.
What’s a memorable moment from one of your classes so far?
I have two. In the fall, I taught Gender and Development and Introduction to Latin American Politics. When I taught Gender and Development, I showed my students a video about gender mainstreaming in Sweden. It was a short video on how gender was mainstreamed into public policy and how the Swedish government was focusing on the movement of women in cities, they [the students] were struck on how the ease of movement for women in cities influenced the wellbeing of not just women but kids, men and those with disabilities. I enjoyed seeing it click in students’ heads all the little things that gender influences and how it doesn’t take a lot to mainstream gender into politics.
In Intro to Latin American politics, one student said he realized even though it’s Latin America and it’s a community, each country is individual and unique, and you can’t generalize the region. This made me happy because it affirmed that the message I wanted to spread was conveyed. They [the students] might forget about dictatorships but they won’t forget how diverse Latin America is, and how individual each country is and that was my goal.
What is one piece of advice (life, college or otherwise) you would give to students?
1) Do what you enjoy doing: money is important but don’t do things just for the money.
2) Work hard: as a professor, the students I remember the most are those who work hard, even if their essay isn’t brilliant, if I see they work hard that’s the sign of a great student. They are the ones I appreciate the most, because even if they don’t understand it [the material], if they made an effort that’s what I value the most. Working hard is the most important thing and it’s a better lesson that will serve them beyond college.
What are some things on your bucket list?
Travel: I want to go to Ireland and Scotland mostly because they have great yarn and strong knitting tradition. I also want to go to Japan for their great stationary, and Tokyo sounds amazing. London as well, I haven’t been there yet.
I’m not very adventurous person, I am not wanting to jump off a plane–I would be terrified. But I would like to see the northern lights.
What’s a random fact about yourself most people don’t know?
I love to watch TV. I love British mystery dramas and Harry Potter.
What’s your favorite Harry Potter book/movie?
The Half Blood Prince for both the book and movie. The first Harry Potter book was the first book I read in English so I have a lot of love for the series. When we first moved to Florida, Harry Potter World was one of the first places me and my husband went–I loved it, it felt like being in the movie.
Interview conducted by Eve Vanagas