Taylor McDaniel interviewed Dr. Linda Bzhetaj, Special Instructor of Sociology at Oakland, about gender, immigration, and graduate school.
What was it like growing up in an Albanian household/culture?
It was both fun and limiting. We were all very close to our cousins and had events and parties, hung out a lot with them. It was limiting for girls at the time. Like in many immigrant communities, there were gender differences. For example, I could not go go to sleepovers or do sports, which I fought my parents on and eventually won.
While teaching previous classes, you have mentioned that your parents had certain expectations for you growing up, which did not include extensive schooling. How did that impact your decision to obtain your degrees?
Being a part of an Albanian community was limiting back then. Girls were expected to get married out of high school. I decided that I wanted to do something different. I started at Macomb Community College, and I took an Intro to Sociology class and loved it. I then went on to get my Bachelor’s Degree from Oakland University, and then my masters and doctorate from Michigan State University. I relied a lot on professors and friends to help me through the schooling system. My parents do not even have a middle school education so it was hard for them to understand my decisions or to help me. I was not suppose to leave the house if I was not married. I wanted to do something different than what others were doing in my community.
Who are the people who have most influenced your life and how have they affected you?
I think the one of biggest people who influenced my career and confidence was my Dissertation Advisor Stephanie Nawyn, a professor at Michigan State. She took me under her wing and helped me and motivated me to believe that I was smart and capable. I had two people from Oakland University that helped me a lot were David Maines, retired OU professor and Jo Reger, current chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work and Criminal Justice. They were really my mentors. Jo encouraged me to go to graduate school. I ended up doing an independent study with her. I think that they were huge in my success. They were good models of what I wanted to achieve that was not present at the time in my life in my community.
What are the experiences that have most influenced you and why?
Getting into graduate school. I never imagined or expected to be there. When I got there, I had an apartment and that was very freeing compared to what I had experienced. I was allowed to do things that I hadn’t before. I remember riding bikes around Michigan State’s campus with a friend and looking around everywhere and it was a surreal experience for me.
Share a story that reveals a bias you have overcome.
Gender bias in the Albanian community. I did not do what was expected of girls. I went to college instead of getting married. I didn’t really experience that among my non-immigrant, non-Albanian friends.
What do you want others to understand about your identity?
Maybe how an immigration experience adds complexity to gender and racial privilege or non-privilege. Usually we think about how gender and race or ethnicity affect our everyday lives, but then we look at immigration and see how those things intersect. I’m part of one of the first generations of being an immigrant to be raised in the United States. My parents had to figure out how to raise kids in a U.S. culture. My closeness to immigration has shaped my growing up, going to school, getting married, and every facet of my life.
If you could change (or improve) one thing about the world, what would it be?
Rich, white males need to change. Recognizing that our humanity is linked to each other, and to respect the basic human dignity of each person. If we really feel that, and really build empathy, that the things that we are seeing won’t be as prevalent. How people see others who they should hate. Again, mostly white, rich men.