Richman honored for online Creole course that builds connections to Haiti

Author: Esther Terry and Elizabeth Rankin

Creole Language and Culture

Karen Richman, a faculty fellow in the University of Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies and academic director of the University’s Institute for Latino Studies, has been honored by the OpenCourseWare Consortium with the 2012 Award for OpenCourseWare Excellence. Her free, online Creole Language and Culture course was selected from among the 17,000 courses shared openly by universities worldwide to receive one of five awards in the text and still image category.

An anthropologist who studies Haitian culture and popular religion, Richman adapted her classroom curriculum for Internet use in 2007 with the goal of building sustained commitment to the people of Haiti through an introductory study of the “vivid and sonorous” language of Creole.

Richman designed the course not only to teach grammar and phonetics, but also to introduce students to the complexities of Haitian history, economy, politics, religion and art. By placing language study within a broader anthropological framework, she aims to cultivate respect for Haitian thinking and values and “to teach a Creole perspective on the universe.”

Karen Richman

“Creole is more than a tool — it actually shapes people’s perception of experience,” she says. “If you want to get to a deeper level of understanding and a deeper level of support or service, it is imperative to master Creole.”

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the number of visits to the site spiked dramatically. Church volunteer groups, nonprofits dedicated to trauma recovery, journalists and even the UN peacekeeping team in Haiti contacted her and accessed course materials online.

Richman notes that Haiti has been plagued by one disaster after another, from the 2008 flooding in Gonaives to the cholera epidemic following the earthquake.

“Haitians are very familiar with poverty,” she says. “They have confronted tragedy and pain and struggle from time immemorial — as they would say, ‘from the time of Africa.’”

In her course, Richman teaches Haitian proverbs to provide insight into the ways Haitians cope with disaster and poverty — and perhaps with the foreign aid organizations that descend upon the country in bad times.

“I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning people not be able to accomplish anything,” she laments. “Haiti has received so much foreign aid, but often it doesn’t help the right people.”

Richman intends for her course to give students a new point of departure for future efforts by promoting understanding of Haitian realities. Whether students go on to do relief and development work or undertake research in Haiti, “they’ll listen more and be able to interpret what they’re hearing,” she says.

Since 2004, Richman has taught Haitian Creole as part of the Notre Dame curriculum. The course (ROFR 20680) is cross-listed in the Department of Anthropology and the Kellogg Institute’s Latin American Studies Program.

An international collaboration of colleges, universities and associated organizations, the OpenCourseWare Consortium offers a broad body of open educational content using a shared model. Notre Dame’s membership in OCW Consortium began as an initiative of the Kaneb Center in 2006.

Contact: Karen Richman, 574-631-8146,

Originally published by Esther Terry and Elizabeth Rankin at on May 02, 2012.