Laura Hubbard, known for tremendous energy and compassion, wins 2017 Amy J. Blue Award

Laura Hubbard, associate director for the Center for African Studies, is one of this year’s winners of the Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

Each morning when Laura Hubbard arrives at Encina Commons, she lingers a moment under the sign “Center for African Studies” that hangs in the arcade outside its door.

“My heart is so full when I pause there, because I get to spend the day with the most amazing people who are trying to build a community in which people take risks to know each other fully and support each other fully, to hold each other down and lift each other up, and ask really hard questions generously – of each other’s work, of each other’s ideas, of each other’s trajectories, of each other’s dreams,” she said.

“Then I open the door and it’s on,” said Hubbard, who has served as associate director for the Center for African Studies (CAS) since 2009.

Laura Hubbard

Laura Hubbard (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The center coordinates an interdisciplinary program in African Studies for undergraduate and graduate students. It is affiliated with internationally renowned faculty whose cutting-edge research shapes academic and policy discourse. It is a key resource for Stanford students, offering them opportunities to engage the international community, build relationships and strengthen their academic focus.

“Also, we’re really good at feeding people here,” Hubbard said, adding that food is served at the center’s weekly Africa Table lecture series and at events both spontaneous and planned – from small birthday parties for international students celebrating far from home to large cookouts for more than 100 people that celebrate the cuisines of Africa and beyond.

Hubbard is one of this year’s winners of the Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

The other two winners are Elizabeth “Becky” Fischbach, exhibition designer and manager for Stanford University Libraries, and Reyno “Rey” Peralta, lead custodian in Student Housing Operations, a division of Residential & Dining Enterprises.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne will present the awards at a May 24 ceremony for the winners and their families, friends and colleagues. The ceremony, which begins at 3:30 p.m., will be held in Lagunita Courtyard, located on Santa Teresa Street across from Roble Field. Refreshments will be served.

Journey began in Zimbabwe

Hubbard, an anthropologist of African youth, media and popular culture, said a course in the ethnomusicology of west African popular music – as a junior at the University of Washington – was one source of inspiration for the personal, emotional and intellectual journey that would eventually lead to Stanford.

“I thought – this is what I am interested in,” she said. “I’m interested in the question of aethestics as politics and the politics of aesthetics.”

Hubbard spent the following year at the University of Zimbabwe, returning to Seattle to write an honors thesis on the the role of popular music in the lives – and imagined futures – of young Zimbabweans.

Her graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, took her back to Africa, this time to Zambia for 1½ years, to conduct the field research that led to her dissertation, Idol Hopes: Media Dream Worlds and the Politics of Youth Futures in Zambia.

While contemplating her next move – and the best way to pursue her love of teaching – she taught classes at three Bay Area universities, including Stanford, where she met students who shared her love of Africa in her course African Media, Art and Social Change.

“The role of associate director came open and my students said, ‘you should do this, we could keep you here, it would be amazing,’” Hubbard recalled. “That was eight years ago.”

At “CAS,” as everyone calls the center, Hubbard teaches Contemporary Issues in African Studies, a course that focuses on a different theme each quarter. She advises masters and minors students in African Studies and students who have won African Service Fellowships from the Haas Center for Public Service. She organizes “Going to Africa” in the spring and “Back from Africa” in the fall for students doing summer service and research projects. She advises student groups, such as the Stanford African Students’ Association.

Most weeks, there are one or two community pop-up events at CAS – study nights, kickbacks, game nights, movie nights. Hubbard attends every event.

“On study night, sometimes I’m the writing tutor,” she said. “Sometimes I’m just here with the food and the music. I don’t keep a regular schedule. I’m on CAS time. Sometimes I leave at 9 p.m. and sometimes I leave at 2 a.m. That’s life. It’s flexible.”

Hubbard, who has a 24-hour open door policy, said music is part of the heart of the CAS community.

“We go song to song,” she said. “We ‘soundtrack’ every day as we play songs at CAS for one another. It’s the way we hear, hold and bring light to each other.”

Praise from students, colleagues

In nominating Hubbard for the Amy J. Blue Award, students, faculty members and colleagues praised her “tremendous energy and compassion,” her “unfailing generosity of time and spirit” and her passion and commitment to the African Studies community.

Brian Fleischer, a sophomore from Ghana who is majoring in human biology, said Hubbard has made CAS a “true home” for students living far from home.

“As an African, low-income, first-generation international student, it was very difficult for me to find my community space at Stanford, and I had a very difficult time coping with the pace of life, academics and life here,” said Fleischer, who is the student staff contact for the “Going to Africa” event at CAS. “I cannot count the number of late-night phone calls and emails she made to check up on me and make sure I was all right.”

Edwina Owusu-Adjapong, a junior from Ghana majoring in civil engineering, said Hubbard is a great sounding board for ideas – be they summer plans, papers or just life in general.

Toussaint Nothias, a lecturer at CAS, said Hubbard has given him invaluable guidance and support since he arrived in September 2015. When Nothias mentioned earlier this year that he was interested in getting the student perspective on a future class, Hubbard enthusiastically offered to organize a brainstorming session with 15 CAS students.

“It was not only a wonderful and pleasant community event – with great food, as always – it was also an extremely useful way for me to think through the pedagogical challenges of designing a curriculum in relation to the interests and expectations of the African Studies community,” said Nothias, who is teaching the course Media Representations of Africa this quarter.

Richard Roberts, a professor of history and director of CAS, said Hubbard has transformed the center – “virtually single-handedly” – from a small group of academics into a large and vibrant community.

“We are in awe of Laura’s commitment to nurture the complex and unruly body of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and community members who compose the Center for African Studies,” Roberts said.

“Laura nurtures our community even as she maintains a very active scholarly program of lectures, conferences and symposia. Laura even balances our budget and manages to squeeze out of it a wonderful array of programs, a strong African language program and a series of highly competitive grants and fellowships. Did I mention that Laura also teaches and has one of the highest student ratings I have seen?”

In a joint letter, Jeremy Weinstein, a professor of political science and director of the Stanford Global Studies Division – of which CAS is a part – and Kate Kuhns, executive director of the division, said Hubbard’s tireless outreach efforts have created a community that works diligently on behalf of students in all aspects of their Stanford experiences.

“Many students affiliated with CAS come from countries in turmoil, and they have been able to find a place of refuge at CAS that is not available to them elsewhere in the university,” they said. “This has been particularly important with uncertainties regarding travel status for students from six predominantly Muslim countries, three of which are in Africa – Libya, Somalia and Sudan. For her most recent effort to acknowledge this stressful time, Laura sought funding and organized a ‘Faces of Community’ event that highlighted the narratives of CAS students on campus, creating an opening for the community to discuss their unique challenges.”

They said Hubbard has also sought resources and partners to ensure that CAS is exposing students to the frontiers of art and culture in Africa by establishing a partnership with the Institute for Diversity in the Arts; by organizing special events, such as a showing of the Academy-Award nominated Nairobi Half Life, a 2012 Kenyan drama; and by offering a regular stream of short courses, lectures and conferences that introduce students to literature, music, performance culture and media.

“Laura does this every year without being asked,” Weinstein and Kuhns wrote. “She simply recognizes that this is something we must do for our students, and she makes the time and finds the resources to make it happen.”