Chair of Latin American Studies
Professor of Political Science
At Knox Since: 1995
Karen Kampwirth '86 joined the Knox faculty in 1995. In 1993 she received
her Ph.D. in political science from the University of California-Berkeley. She
has published four books on women in Latin America -- Radical Women in Latin America: Left and Right; Women and Guerrilla Movements: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas, Cuba; Feminism and The Legacy of Revolution: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas; and Gender and Populism in Latin America: Passionate Politics.
Why did you decide to become a professor?
I can thank Bob Seibert for that. My plans were to become a lawyer until he suggested to me that I should think about Ph.D. programs. Once he suggested it, the idea must have been pretty obvious to me as I never really considered another career after that.
I graduated from Knox in 1986 with a double major in political science and Spanish. And I always knew I wanted to be at a rigorous liberal arts college, like Knox. But I didn't imagine I would end up at Knox itself.
What are your current scholarly interests?
I've done fieldwork in six different Latin American countries on political topics (spending a total of maybe four years in the region). Most of my research has been on grassroots politics and gender politics. Lately I've been doing interviews with activists in the LGBT rights movement in Nicaragua.
How has interacting with students affected your own academic interests and research?
As the College has always been very good about letting me develop courses that reflect my evolving interests (even when they are far from my original job description -- like courses on Al Qaeda and the Middle East), I have the opportunity to work a lot of the stories from years of field research into my courses. And working with students makes me a better writer I think, as my students are always one of my audiences whenever I write.
What surprises you about Knox students?
I'm not sure this is surprising, but I love the cultural freedom at this place. One of my favorite explanations for why a student chose Knox was that, when she visited as a prospective, she liked the fact that Knox students were so "un-fashionable." There is little pressure to conform to a particular style.
What is your most memorable moment at Knox?
I thought a nice reflection of what Knox students are like happened in March of 2003, as the United States invaded Iraq. Everyone more or less knew when the invasion was going to happen, almost for sure during Knox's spring break. So APA and other anti-war groups on campus agreed that if the invasion started during spring break, they would meet for a protest by the flagpole near Old Main at 4:00 on the first day of the new term. Also the College Republicans agreed that if the invasion started during spring break, they would meet to demonstrate in support of the war by the flagpole near Old Main at 4:00 on the first day of the new term. Neither group shared its plans with the other so I imagine that both were surprised to see the other group gathering. But both demonstrations went on as planned, very close to each other. The Republicans waved signs calling on passersby to honk if they supported the troops and supported the war. The anti-war groups waved signs calling on passersby to honk if they supported the troops and opposed the war. There was lots of honking but nobody knew what the honks meant.
Do you have any advice for students who are considering studying at Knox?
There are huge numbers of opportunities here to work closely with professors, something that wouldn't happen at a big school. And everyone should participate in a study abroad program. It is the only time in your life that you receive financial aid to live in another country, and it would be silly to miss that opportunity.