Sunday, February 8, 2015

BB Reflection: Oral Histories as Feminist Methodologies

This week’s brown bag included a panelist of students and professors who went on an alternative break trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania focusing on Education, Transmedia Activism, and Social Justice. On this trip, students interviewed community members part of grassroots/activists organizations who have previously used video and art to combat issues pertinent to the Philadelphia community. These videos were created through the Scribe Video Center, an organization that collaborates with people and groups doing grassroots activism. The students presented on several of these groups, which used oral her/hir/histories and storytelling as a methodology for their activism. Scribe the assigned the Colgate students to interview various groups on their experiences on making these videos and being social justice activists in their communities.
It is very exciting to learn about the work that Scribe is doing in Philly. It creates a space for people to tell their differing stories, stories that are often excluded from the mainstream narratives. They show various perspectives of events and experiences, but also creates a space within which people can share their similar experiences. This is what I would call feminisms in action. As a feminist methodology, the sharing of oral narratives gives voice to those people who are often silenced and opens up a space (in both time and physical space) that previously did not exist.
Being able to play a creative role in both participating and editing these videos helps to validate the experiences of the many participants. They also validate the social issues that have real consequences on their lives and/or that shape their identities. For instance, some Colgate students interviewed women who made a video about being Muslim women. Another group of students interviewed women whose children were taken away by the Philadelphia government Department of Human Services and put into foster care. These women are trying to get their children or grandchildren back while also challenging the legality/ constitutionality of the reasons why the government removed these children from their homes. Media activism is a highly important and critical tool in the 21st century, because it helps groups reach out to others easier, whether in their communities or beyond.
I think the panelists did a good job emphasizing their exact roles on this alternative break trip: they were there to listen and do what they were told to do. They were not intended to “help” the community with their own projects or agendas. I appreciated how they stepped back, and did what would be the most beneficial to the various communities. Their main goals were to conduct and record videos that would become a part of a larger archival project of the people of Philadelphia. They were there to record the her/hir/histories of people of varying identities and preserve their contributions. This archive will insure that these oral narratives are as much of a part of Philadelphia history as other “mainstream” stories depicted in the media. This is truly empowering. It is empowering not only for the participants and activist groups, but also for me.

Valerie Garcia ‘15
Women’s Health Intern

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