Faculty Spotlight: Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis

photo of Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis

  • professor of English, Black World Studies, and Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • co-founder and director of Project Dream Keepers, a college readiness program for underserved high school students in the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area
  • inspired and fascinated by the power of language to both unite and divide people


"I received my PhD in Linguistics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I chose linguistics because I thought it was a fascinating field that focuses on language, not only in a theoretical way but in the ways that people actually use language.

"At that time I read a very interesting book, Language - the Loaded Weapon by Dwight Bolinger, and in this book the writer/researcher talked about how language can be used to bring people together or separate people from each other. I thought that was intriguing. Humans have a tool that can be used for good if it is applied in certain ways."


"This semester I am teaching a course on the history of the English language and a cross-listed course for Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGS) and Black World Studies (BWS). It is a practicum called "Dream Keepers," in which Miami students mentor high school students to help them prepare for college.
[See the June 2016 CAS press release From Project REACH to Dream Keepers: expanding access to a college education.]

"I enjoy interacting with all these talented students here at Miami. The students I have in Dream Keepers are very committed to giving back to the community, and I always learn something from students in any of my classes. I like that exchange of knowledge between us.

"I believe that teaching is a reciprocal arrangement between teachers and students. That is, learning is a two-way, interactive process that involves reflection, collaboration, and active engagement on the part of both students and teachers. The classroom should be a safe place for exploring and discussing complex ideas as well as a nurturing environment for creativity. Also, it is important to get out of the classroom regularly in order to interact with the community in meaningful ways.

"One takeaway I think it's important for students to understand is that there are multiple points of view, and that sometimes the dominant points of view are not necessarily the ones that can lead us to greater knowledge or practical action."


"I have multiple projects. One project that I am working on right now is collecting the oral histories of African American centenarians, including some centenarians who are well over 100 years old. I am looking at aspects of language as well as the content of their lives. This project is at the forefront of what I have been doing most recently.

"I like to involve students in my research at all levels. Students in my classes and projects conduct research on the most recent scholarly literature, best practices for mentoring, as well as finding creative ways to be of service to the community."

Outside the Classroom

"Many things keep me motivated, obviously including my own research! I am always looking for participants in my centenarian project or mentoring project.

"What keeps me going, especially with the Dream Keepers project, is knowing that we are making a difference in the community and the lives of the young people that we mentor. It makes me so delighted to get an email from someone who was in the Dream Keepers program saying that they are graduating from college and such, or to bump into them in the city of Cincinnati and see that they are doing well. The opportunity to give back to the community and be of service is basically what motivates me — it's what makes me want to get up in the morning!"

[September 2019]