While she was attending Vassar College, the reality of U.S. racism became personal when her parents cautioned her not to bring an African-American friend home for a visit. Later, her cousin and best friend was socially isolated on wealthy Martha’s Vineyard, where her husband, a minister, was expelled from his parish because of his support for civil rights, including taking part in the landmark Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March.
These experiences led to a life-long concern with how social inequality was sustained by cultural barriers and racial separation and a belief in the need for social mobilization to bring about social change. Meeting Ron as she was leaving for graduate study in France and he was en route to Portugal started the relationship that led to marriage and two years of graduate study in Spain and Portugal and later introduced her to Latin America and several years in Northeast Brazil. Ron’s successful work with poor communities there further convinced her that producing an authentic portrait of societies and their social problems required command of language subtleties and cultural mores that turned researchers into “insiders.”