Saturday, April 28, 2007

Diverse Voices Anchorage

Last spring, Professor Kerry Feldman invited a group of faculty to help him develop a small grant proposal to fund students to take independent study classes in which they would develop a project to help give voice to communities that usually were not heard on campus. While the original intent was to highlight different immigrant populations, that was quickly broadened to allow students to define community. Goals included reaching out to students who might feel that the university was not interested in people from their community, to raise awareness of these different cultures among other students and faculty, and to improve the interaction between the campus and the community at large. At the beginning the faculty were not sure what the students would be able to accomplish. Each student would be assigned a faculty mentor, would get tuition waiver for the class, and $200 to spend to help cover costs. Interested students could also get a faculty to help them develop their proposals.

Yesterday the students presented their final projects, which were far more consistently excellent than the faculty dared to hope for back at the beginning.

Cassandra explored the "Diverse Artistic Voices of Mountain View," a low income neighborhood. Her excitement about being able to do this project with faculty support and class credit bubbled over in her presentation. She's been busy in the community interviewing artists and community leaders and clearly is going to keep working on this. Celeste Hodge, a community member on the steering committee and member of the Mayor's staff, gave Cassandra her business card and asked her to call her because she wants to expand the project to other parts of town.

Robin interviewed students in her Alaska Native Studies class as well as the elders who helped teach the class to determine the roles elders play in an urban setting. The elders' participation in the class went a long way in getting students to explore not only Alaska Native culture, but their own, and made them realize the urgency of beginning similar dialogues with older people in their families and communities.

Lauren looked at the adjustments military familes have to make when moving into Anchorage. Her findings suggested that Anchorage is a pretty good posting, in part because of the strong community support for the military, the great natural environment, and the general convenience of shopping, community activities, and recreation.

Austin was so excited he couldn't hold still. A music education student, he explored Carnatic music of India with two Indian-American residents of Anchorage. He discovered a whole new way to experiencing music and his enthusiam got the audience excited as well. And then he played Swagatam Krishna which he had transcribed for the clarinet.

Shelley explored how her upbringing affected her world view. Born in Columbia on a Christian farming community, she came to the US as an infant when the guerilla activity forced the community to abandon their land. Eventually they made their way to a similar community of 50 people in rural Alaska.

And although today's event began at 11am and went until after 5pm, steering committee member Phyllis Fast and her students prepared plenty of food for all and beautifully decorated the room.

Tafi's presentation focused on male Samoan children who are early identified as Fa 'afafine and raised as girls to have a unique place in their cultural life, crossing between gender roles. The particular focus was on what happens to them when the come to study in the US. He interviewed Fa 'afafine of two different age groups to see if there was a difference.

Isaiah grew up in Unalakleet where he started videotaping in 8th grade. He's now an accomplished film maker and used that talent to document how villagers are adapting to life at UAA. The group of students he followed seemed to be adjusting pretty well, though they find the bus system in Anchorage really inconvenient.

There was also a presentation on "Birthing from Multicultural Perspective" and on "Anchorage's Political Refugees." A number of the students told us how significant this class was in their academic and personal lives. And those who didn't say it explicitly demonstrated it in the enormous amount of work they did and how well they presented their findings.

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