GSE Retired Faculty Member Empowers the Next Generation of Social Justice Educators through her Support of the South Africa Initiative

Retired GSE faculty member, Dr. Sarane Boocock is a long-time supporter of the GSE’s South Africa Initiative (SAI) run by Dr. Darren Clarke. Launched in the fall of 2001, SAI facilitates international contact between GSE students and South Africa with the vision of empowering students and educators as vital agents and architects of a diverse democracy. The program provides experiences for participants to increase their cultural awareness and knowledge, cultural empathy, and to better understand their cultural identity while observing and examining the sociopolitical realities of South African communities and schools. SAI’s vision is to develop a true exchange of talents and expertise via in-person contact and through distance-education technology, where educators from the United States and South Africa develop strategies and interventions for the improvement of teaching and learning.


Dr. Boocock first visited South Africa in 1976 shortly before the Soweto uprising and was struck by the fact that both the United States and South Africa struggled with similar issues around race, ethnicity, and gender. “In the 1960s when I was working at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, it was very much a segregated city and I worked with a group of local civil rights activists to get the city to agree to open up the public park as space for all to enjoy,” said Dr. Boocock. “Thus, I felt that the United States and South Africa had much in common, and when my former GSE star student Darren came to me with the idea for SAI, I found the program to be very inspiring.”

“Darren designed the program to be reflective so that New Jersey GSE pre-service teachers would take a three credit course, engage in a series of thoughtful community-based and social justice activities in South Africa, which included teaching at local schools, reflect upon what they had learned, and share those learnings via blogs,” stated Dr. Boocock. 

“I really believe that the teaching experience in South Africa for future New Jersey educators is particularly important because they realize how much is possible simply because your teachers believe that you can learn,” said Dr. Boocock. “Students in South Africa study in make-shift classrooms with no equipment and as many as 50 general and special education students together in a class who have no behavioral issues. That is certainly an empowering experience for GSE’s pre-service teachers and what led me to fund stipends for this year’s SAI alums to teach in New Jersey schools based on what they had learned from their trip to South Africa.”

Dr. Boocock is a trailblazer as the first woman to secure a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. Having earned her master’s degree at Rutgers, she was glad to come back to the university as a faculty member first in the Sociology department and later in the GSE. It was her collaboration around social justice education with GSE’s Dr. W. Steven Barnett and Dr. Nobuo Shimahara that brought her to the GSE, and she worked together with them and her students for a number of years on securing funding for high-quality preschool programs in historically underserved communities. Although she is retired now, she still continues some of her research work and was thrilled recently when New Jersey’s Governor Murphy agreed to fund preschool education. She attributes this success directly to her former GSE colleague, Dr. Barnett’s tireless efforts.

“I really enjoyed my time at the GSE and learned much from my students, in particular my diverse group of students,” said Dr. Boocock. “I recall that when Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa, the young African American men who were my students at the GSE were openly weeping because that was the first time that they could see themselves leading a country.”

“Nelson Mandela was an agent of dramatic change in South Africa and when I read the blogs of SAI alums, it is very clear to me that they find their trip to South Africa to be very empowering as they walk through the streets that Mandela had walked and engage in social justice activities,” stated Dr. Boocock. “GSE’s South Africa Initiative is inspiring in so many ways and I am honored to be a part of this program which empowers the next generation of social justice educators.”

Dr. Boocock enjoys playing Bach and early Shakespearean era music on the harpsichord in her leisure time and has been taking music lessons once a week for the last 15 years.