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Osamamen, Nigerian scholar examines African immigrant experience in Iowa

By Tope Templer Olaiya
04 March 2023   |   11:19 am
When in 2021, Osamamen Oba Eduviere ditched a PhD program in the University of Ibadan (UI) for the United States' University of Iowa (UI), it was not a tough decision to make as it was a dream of many years come true.

When in 2021, Osamamen Oba Eduviere ditched a PhD program in the University of Ibadan (UI) for the United States’ University of Iowa (UI), it was not a tough decision to make as it was a dream of many years come true.

The journey to Iowa began at the University of Benin (UNIBEN), where Osamamen, Mame for short, previously taught Religious Studies as a young lecturer. There, a colleague showed her a method of ethnography she’d learned in the U.S. that seeks to benefit not only the observer but the observed.

“It opened my eyes to a different kind of scholarship,” Osamamen told Iowa Magazine in its latest edition, “and I was very much intrigued with knowing how she got data and the ethical ways in which she navigated.”

Her quest to learn more about this research method led her to The Virgin of El Barrio, a book by Professor Kristy Nabhan-Warren about a Mexican American community, which was based on a study involving a decade of participant observations and in-depth interviews. Eager to study under Nabhan-Warren, Osamamen enrolled in Iowa’s PhD program in Religious Studies in fall 2021.

Since arriving at Iowa, there’s been no turning back, as she sets her eyes on the ball, collaborating with University of Iowa faculty on a study titled Homebuilding in the Heartland, which particularly seeks to answer the question: What draws African migrants to make their home in Iowa?

Working with UI faculty members Brady G’sell and Amy Weismann (00JD) on Homebuilding in the Heartland, a grant-funded project to learn how African immigrants adjust to life in Iowa, Mame poses this question as part of her research to help some of the Iowa’s newest residents, while she reflects on the educational opportunities that brought her to the Hawkeye State.

Already set to work, she has created and maintains a database of organizations that provide services to immigrants in the state, interviews African Iowans about their stories, and invites migrants to keep journals of their experiences.

“Once we brought Osamamen on board, the project just blossomed,” said G’sell, an assistant professor of gender, women’s, and sexuality studies. “All of a sudden, we could go in all these new directions because of the expertise she brought to the table and the kind of imagination she had for what our research could look like.”

The collaborators hope their research strengthens the network of support for African migrants who come to Iowa for a variety of reasons, from educational and economic opportunities to political and religious freedoms.

With guidance from the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, Osamamen, G’sell, and adjunct assistant international studies professor Sunday Goshit (06MA, 09PhD, 12MS) have also applied for a grant from Humanities Without Walls to create public events where African women can share their stories with their new communities.

In addition to her work with migrants, Osamamen recently published op-eds in Nigeria’s flagship newspaper, The Guardian, on topics such as the threat posed to education by the terrorist group Boko Haram and the pollution in the Niger Delta that has forced people to leave their homes.

“That’s tremendous public-facing work,” G’sell noted. “I think that just shows what an innovative, flexible scholar she is, and we’re just so lucky she’s here at the University of Iowa.”

Osamamen, who received the UI’s M. Willard Lampe Scholarship last year for scholarship that engages the public in ways that foster religious tolerance, said her research is building toward a dissertation on Nigerian women, gender, and religion.

After her graduation in spring 2026, she plans to bring her insights back to Nigeria and perhaps work for the United Nations Refugee Agency or another nonprofit that provides migrant support.

“I feel that I am here to study, and then when I study, I can give back meaningfully to my community,” she said with an eye on the future. “That has been one thing that has kept me going in all the works I’ve been doing on migration and has been the force behind it.”