“Tattoos on My Heart”: Reflecting on my Summer Research Experience in Uganda – Delaney Wells ’20

Editor’s Note: The below post was originally featured on the Dolenan Office of Community-Based Learning Blog on August 9, 2019. You can find the original post at https://communitybasedlearning.me.holycross.edu/2019/08/09/tattoos-on-my-heart-reflecting-on-my-summer-research-experience-in-uganda-delaney-wells-20/

Group of people from Amaanyi Center standing with Delany Wells
Delaney with her community at the Amaanyi Center.

CBL Intern, Delaney Wells ’20 spent her summer as a Research Fellow at EmbraceKulture. The organization works to develop the capacity of organizations serving children and youth with developmental and/or cognitive disabilities in Africa. Specifically, Delaney researched the Amaanyi Center, a project of EmbraceKulture and the first and only center in Uganda dedicated to empowering youth with special needs to achieve their potential. The following post is Delaney’s final reflection on her experience in Uganda and how it relates to other experiential learning experiences she has had at Holy Cross (Community-Based Learning, the Spring Break Immersion Program, and the Washington Semester Program).

Crazy, crazy to think that my almost 10-week experience in Africa is concluding. I contemplated for a bit which word to use in place of “experience” in my last sentence, but “visit” did not feel just right. I am very aware that I am a visitor here, and there is so much to learn about where I am. Yet, Lunyo Village has truly begun to feel like home to me. From early morning singing during Assembly, walks to church, the neighborhood goats and chickens that roam about, it is hard to believe that very soon this will not be my reality.

The last few weeks have been very special… beginning to realize my time was winding down, I was able to reallllly think about and practice living in the moment. There have been many situations that have served as reminders of the importance of presence. The very, very finicky wifi and electricity which initially was very frustrating quickly became opportunities where I could step back and take a deep breath; to learn to live in the moment. I have found that sharing time at L’Arche communities (which I did through the Spring Break Immersion Program and the Washington Program) has really reminded me of intentionality and presence, and the Amaanyi Center (where I have been spending my time this summer through the Summer Research Program) is no different. Within Disability Theology there is a writer who wrote of L’Arche and “time as experienced in L’Arche”. This revolves around the idea that time does not exist in relation to real life, things move at a truly human pace. This allows for core members and assistants alike to appreciate each moment, and feel no pressure to rush (I wrote about this a good deal in my thesis if you have more questions !!). This means that a walk that may take one person 20 minutes may take a core member an hour, and there is no shame or annoyance in that. Rather, there is just an appreciation for living life at the speed we dictate, instead of society and others dictating for us. I can attest that time as experienced in the Amaanyi Center is quite similar. We have a schedule for classes and meals throughout the day, but this is in no way binding. If our students using walkers are not in Literacy right at 9 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, we do not rush them. This applies to all members of the Amaanyi Center if teacher Rosemary needs another moment before class to finish preparing for our lesson.

I think that is where the beauty of L’Arche and the Amaanyi Center lies, in the recognition of the inherent importance of a person. Once you prioritize the person instead of the event you are late for or the deadline you are rushing to complete, you can fully appreciate them as a human being instead of a nuisance or something slowing you down. Yes, this may sound incredibly similar to the practice of patience, but I believe it is much greater than that. I just wrapped up my first flight from Entebbe and I re-read parts of “Tattoos on the Heart” by Father Greg Boyle as I tried everything I possibly could to distract myself from the mix of sadness, appreciation, love, and loss I felt after leaving the most special students behind (I think the woman next to me on the plane thought I was truly a mess). Father Boyle speaks of a parable involving a woman named Carmen, who came in to talk to him at what he felt was the wrong time. He was rushing to a Baptism and didn’t want to be bothered with whatever trouble she had gotten into. After she opened her heart to him, explaining her story, he writes “suddenly, her shame meets mine. For when Carmen walked through that door, I had mistaken her for an interruption”. In such a fast-paced world, everything that is not matching or exceeding our speed slows us down and is annoying to us. What if we spend time slowing down, to walk with someone, like Maureen, who moves more slowly? Or spent time really ensuring we hear what someone who may be hard to verbally understand, like Ketty, is saying? What if we could take the rush out of our lives and just appreciate the company of one another being human in this journey together?

Through CBL and other opportunities at school and outside of campus, many of us have come to understand the power of presence; of sitting, or standing, with someone else and engage.  To truly value humanity you must spend time with the other, this is the importance of mutuality-in-community where a relationship can be introduced where people are transformed and taught how to be human. Transvaluation, a notion held central to Disability Theology and one that KEEPS coming up in my life is discovered in personal encounters with people with profound developmental/intellectual disabilities and initiates a movement towards a radically new system of evaluation. When people meet together and engage in mutually constructive relationships of friendship with people who have profound developmental disabilities, they are changed and transformed. Disability is no longer seen as an inconvenience or devaluing concept, simply just differences among people. Really, it is the practice of engagement with respect for all involved that can allow for genuine humanity to be practiced among one another. This is something that takes practice, but what a beautiful skill to hone. If this could be the reality of our world, a real inclusive society built on genuine respect for one another, a gospel of love that is lived out instead of just a faraway notion that is easily forgotten in the day to day busyness.

Father Boyle’s book title is the perfect description for the lessons I learned through my fourteen most amazing students, the staff, neighbors and all who I encountered during my time in Lunyo Village, they have truly left tattoos on my heart. I hope we can all try to take a moment to remember and recognize the humanity among us all as we move to transition into another busy (in a wonderful way!) year. Through this, we can begin towards the inclusion we ALL, people with and without disabilities, need in order to allow for humanity among us all to be celebrated as it ought to be. Love and care for one another, how can you say no to that?

Bubble Tea and Constructing Asian American Identity: A Conversation with Fenwick Scholar Mia Yee ’19

Student (Mia Yee) smiling at camera on Fenwick Porch
Mia Yee on Fenwick Porch. Photo by Avanell Brock

Editor’s Note: This article was published on the Holy Cross news website on May 22, 2019. It was written by Jane Carlton. Mia Yee ’19, in addition to being the 2018-2019 Fenwick Scholar, is also an Ignite Fund recipient.

Every year, Holy Cross names a Fenwick Scholar — a student who spends the entirety of their senior year conducting independent research. But it’s not every year that student embarks on a study of ramen and other modern Asian American food culture. Mia Yee, the 2018-2019 recipient of the College’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor, conducted ethnographic research on Asian American food spaces, combining her passions — and majors — of anthropology and architectural studies.

Yee, who also has a minor in studio art, spent a year observing and interviewing customers and restaurant workers at innovative eateries in the Boston area for her research. Now, we turn the tables and ask Yee about her project, the research process and how Holy Cross has made a lasting impression.

How would you describe your research in a nutshell?

I did ethnographic field research in contemporary Asian food places that serve trendy foods, like ramen, bubble tea, fusion, that type of thing. I focused on spaces that deviated away from what we normally see in American Chinese or sushi restaurants. I was drawn to places that have a lot of aesthetic props and are more modern or global.

There was a moment in Snappy Kitchen (one of the restaurants I feature in my research), where one of the co-owners said, “I don’t like cherry blossoms; I don’t like maneki-nekos,” which are the waving cats. They’re these very Americanized symbols of Japan.

I interviewed a number of Asian Americans, mostly millennials, to get their take on how these spaces are constructing their experiences as Asian Americans.

Why food spaces? Why did you want to spend a year doing research there?

I’m Japanese and Chinese American. My dad is third-generation Chinese American, and my family is very Americanized and worked at the Kowloon Restaurant in Saugus, Massachusetts. In college I became really interested in how space intersects with race, class and gender. I wanted to look at how spaces are racialized. I thought that was a really cool concept that, in architecture, hasn’t been explored as much.

What were some of the questions you explored?

I was interested in the way that class and privilege come out in these spaces, and how that is tied up with ethnic hierarchies, like who immigrated here first. Who’s had the most time here? Who’s been alienated the longest, and who’s dealing with the brunt of it right now? And then also how socio-economic status plays in.

My time at Holy Cross has taught me that Asian and Asian American representation matters. I came from a high school that had many Asian Americans and then came to a college where I was one of the only Asian people in the classroom. I began to think about how and why our identities matter and all our intersectionalities — race, class, gender, ethnicity — matter.

Take for instance “Crazy Rich Asians.” Beyond being a rom-com, it’s noteworthy because it’s the first movie in 25 years to have an all Asian cast — and that matters. When Asian Americans go and eat in these trendy, cosmopolitan, modern food spaces, they gain social and cultural capital, which gives them a platform where they can say “Hey, look, Asian stuff is cool” and is a space where they don’t feel like an “other.”

What was it like to undertake a yearlong research project?

I was working on it every day, and I also spent the entirety of most breaks doing research. While it was hard to separate myself from my work, it was still highly academic and analytical. But sometimes the question was, does work really have to be separate from one’s identity? It gave me some perspective, as I was able to understand all the dynamics of being connected to my work and understanding my own place as a researcher.

As for the actual research, I think because my family has worked in restaurants my whole life, it helped immensely in terms of talking to proprietors. I was able to talk the talk, so to speak. I could talk about restaurant stuff and they were like, “Oh, you actually understand this.”

What did your path to becoming a Fenwick Scholar look like?

It took me a while to find my people here, but I’ve come to love parts of Holy Cross. I’ve met amazing friends, had amazing mentors and professors. That said, my Fenwick Scholar process was a little convoluted. It was not a straight shot. I started off thinking that I wanted to look at how general spaces are racialized. From there I focused specifically on food spaces. It’s really nice to see that projects about race and about class matter.

You’ve mentioned that Ann Marie Leshkowich, professor of anthropology, has made a big impact on your time at the College. How so?

Professor Leshkowich is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. I went to her during my sophomore year fall semester and said, “I heard a few of Susan Rodgers’ students went to Indonesia. How can I do that?” She told me she was going to Vietnam the next summer, and suggested I do independent research with her. So I went to Vietnam with her. She has so much wisdom and so much humor. She’s known to be challenging as a professor, which I actually wrote about in my acknowledgements. But that has made me grow.

Yee’s Fenwick Scholar project was entitled “Asians Eat Food and Drink Bubble Tea: The Co-Construction of Contemporary Asian Food Spaces and Asian (American) Identity.” Her faculty advisors were Ann Marie Leshkowich and David Karmon, associate professor of visual arts.

Professor Stephanie Yuhl Works With Worcester’s LGBTQ+ Community to Share Their History

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the Holy Cross news website on June 5, 2019. It is written by Evangelia Stefanakos. 

Stephanie Yuhl at the opening reception for "LGBTQ+ Worcester — For the Record," the exhibition she helped bring to life at the Worcester Historical Museum.
Stephanie Yuhl at the opening reception of “LGBTQ+ Worcester — For the Record,” the exhibition she helped bring to life at the Worcester Historical Museum. Photo by Louie Despres

On April 25, the Worcester Historical Museum was filled with emotion — sorrow, anger, joy — as hundreds explored the museum’s newest exhibition, “LGBTQ+ Worcester — For the Record,” a chronicling of images, histories, voices and experiences of Worcester’s LGBTQ+ community over the last 50 years.

The exhibition, timed to the 50th anniversary of New York’s Stonewall uprising and the advent of the modern gay liberation movement, showcases the scattered documentation of Worcester’s LGBTQ+ experience, which is quickly growing due in large part to the work of College of the Holy Cross’ Stephanie Yuhl, professor of history. Supported by a three-year Scholarship in Action grant, Yuhl is working as part of a team of scholars to develop a physical and digital historical archive, oral history project and artifact collection of LGBTQ+-related materials in Worcester County.

While Worcester’s LGBTQ+ community has claimed space in the city for decades, their history has long been overlooked, a common occurrence for marginalized, hidden or oppressed communities, explains Yuhl. Through partnerships with the museum and various community representatives, Yuhl’s Scholarship in Action grant project, titled “From Margin to Center,” aims to make this rich history both visible and accessible — and, in doing so, showcase its value.

For Yuhl, this is social justice history work.

“The idea was to build a collection because if you start collecting materials, you start validating that history and if you have a history, you’re not easily erased,” she shares. “I always say, and said at the opening of the exhibition, that archives are a form of power.”

In order to build this collection, Yuhl and her community partner William Wallace, executive director of the Worcester Historical Museum, established an extensive network of partners in Worcester. The team of collaborators includes professors Robert Tobin from Clark University and Joseph Cullon from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), both co-curators of the exhibition and larger archive project, along with a community advisory board made up of organizations including Worcester Pride, the Boys and Girls Club, and UMass Medical School. These many touchpoints helped guide the collection process and reach the variety of people who self-identify as members of Worcester’s LGBTQ+ community.

“This has required a lot of social energy, a live network, a lot of building up relationships and trust before people are willing to share their stories,” says Yuhl. “This is especially true because we’re talking about a population that has generally been disparaged. You don’t want to only be extractive.”

This grassroots effort — in partnership with the community, for the community — is vital to the success of the project.

“One of the central tenets of this type of public history work,” explains Yuhl, “is shared authority. It’s not just a scholarly expert that comes in and says, ‘This is the story,’ but rather serves to ask questions and be a platform for communities to tell their own histories.”

People in LGBTQ history exhibit looking at items on wall
The Worcester Historical Museum is packed with members of the community exploring the “LGBTQ+ Worcester — For the Record” exhibition. Photo by Hui Li ’21

Through this project, Yuhl has been able to marry her scholarly interests in public history and in gender and sexuality in the U.S. context with the needs of the local community, making it a perfect fit for the Scholarship in Action initiative. The initiative’s funding, sponsored by $800,000 awarded to the College from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, aims to support sustainable, community-based faculty research projects in Worcester over the next five years through a series of grants.

Yuhl received one of the two inaugural Scholarship in Action grants, alongside Susan Rogers, professor emerita of anthropology, who is studying refugee resettlement in Worcester. A new crop of grants will be awarded in the coming months to support more community-based faculty research projects, which also create a range of experiential, applied learning opportunities for students.

In just the first year of the three-year project, many Holy Cross students have contributed to Yuhl’s research in varying ways, whether conducting legal or newspaper research or helping to gather initial data for a wall-sized map of LGBTQ+ spaces in Worcester that is featured in the exhibition. Most notably, Nora Grimes ’19 and Emma Powell ’20 curated “I’m Not the Only One: LGBTQ+ Histories at Holy Cross,” an exhibition up during the spring semester at Holy Cross. This exhibition was the result of a full summer of research conducted by Grimes and Powell through the Weiss Summer Research Program and is a part of a larger Holy Cross initiative called Project Q+, which aims to create a Holy Cross-specific LGBTQ+ archive.

“As a young historian and ally, I felt that it was and is my duty to participate in this work, to listen, to gather and to uplift the voices that have been a huge part of our history as a college since its founding,” says Grimes, who shared that the most rewarding part of the work was the opportunity to publicly display and share this history that has been historically marginalized with the campus community and alumni.

Grimes and Powell’s work also contributed to the larger archive Yuhl is creating as well as the Worcester Historical Museum’s exhibition, which featured a handful of Holy Cross-specific LGBTQ+ artifacts.

The show at Holy Cross served as a complement to the Worcester History Museum exhibition, with similar shows being put up on the campuses of Clark and WPI by professors Tobin and Cullon, respectively. The college exhibitions aim to reinforce that this local LGBTQ+ history has many different homes and that the history at one institution may look very different from that of another. Ultimately, explains Yuhl, there is a connection between each institution’s LGBTQ+ history and the city’s.

“Our exhibit at Holy Cross may seem small in the scheme of things,” says Powell, “but it is part of a larger project of the Worcester community acknowledging LGBTQ+ people and lobbying not for an apathetic acceptance but for an active celebration.”

While much has already been done, the work of collecting is far from over. Over the next two years, Yuhl and the Worcester LGBTQ+ project team will continue to gather artifacts and stories from the Worcester community in the hopes of capturing a broader, more accurate depiction of the history of its LGBTQ+ community.

The Worcester Historical Museum exhibition, which will be up through October 12th, could mistakenly be seen as a culmination of the collecting, but Yuhl explains it is rather a catalyst for it.

“The exhibit serves as an opportunity to report out to the community on the state of collecting,” she says. “It is the sort of middle point and we’re looking at it as a provocateur, an invitation both to catalyze and invite the community to understand what it is we’re trying to do and to contribute, to share their stories, to help shape it because, ultimately, it’s theirs.”

The LGBTQ+ community’s response to the exhibition, as well as that from those outside of the community, has been overwhelmingly positive — an indicator of the early success and impact of this project.

Mitchell ’19 Carves Path in Politics

Woman on balcony overlooking National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Carter Mitchell ’19

An interest in politics has always played a role in Carter Mitchell’s Holy Cross experience. Since volunteering on a local campaign during high school, Mitchell ’19 has carved out a path for herself in the political world, with stops such as the Speaker’s Balcony in the United States Capitol and the re-election campaign for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

“My interest in politics first began during my senior year of high school when I volunteered on Governor Baker’s first gubernatorial campaign,” said Mitchell, a Political Science major. “It was a great hands-on approach to the election process. Through my political science courses at Holy Cross, I developed my passion for politics, and particularly enjoyed classes relating to American Government.”

Mitchell took part in both the Washington Semester Program and the Academic Internship Program (AIP). She interned with former U.S. Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership office in Washington, and then interned with Gov. Baker’s re-election campaign through AIP.

“My semester in Washington, D.C. was a great opportunity to fully immerse myself in the city, and to focus on my internship and thesis,” said Mitchell. “The AIP course allowed me to further my interest in politics and campaigns while remaining on the Holy Cross campus.”

As for what comes after graduation this week, Mitchell will find herself in the world of politics full-time. She secured a position with Targeted Victory, a full-service political strategy and marketing firm based in Arlington, VA. Mitchell described how her Washington Semester and Academic Internship experiences played a role in securing her job offer.

“The internships developed my work ethic, time management skills, and the ability to handle new responsibilities,” said Mitchell. “During job interviews, I was able to articulate the ways that I approached my tasks, challenges, and other aspects of my internships. The skills and relationships that I developed through both semester programs were beneficial in the job search process.”

Mitchell encouraged future Holy Cross students to consider taking part in either program, as it played an important role in her post-graduate plans.

“My experiences in the program were valuable in shaping my Holy Cross experience and future career,” said Mitchell. “During the internships, I recommend taking advantage of every opportunity, learning and understanding all the aspects of your internship site, and fostering connections within your office and with Holy Cross alumni. The real-world and hands-on experiences of both programs is unmatched, and I encourage students to consider pursuing a semester program.”

Grey ’19 Impresses in Washington and in Summer Research

Man in suit standing in front of window
Alexander Grey ’19

When Alexander Grey ’19 first came to Holy Cross as a transfer student, his decision to major in Political Science was somewhat unexpected. Originally an International Relations and Diplomacy major at Seton Hall, Grey decided to change his course of study.

It worked out well for Grey, as he would go on to take part in both the Washington Semester and Weiss Summer Research programs. After graduation, he will be traveling across the Atlantic to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on scholarship for a M.Sc. in Political Theory.

“I pivoted to Political Science,” said Grey, “a choice which I am more than pleased with since it granted me a wide-reaching background in politics. The philosophical side of politics, in a field that is going increasingly quantitative, is exciting to delve into and fits with how my brain works more than statistical modeling and such.”

In the Washington Semester, Grey interned with the office of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. This internship gave him the experience of seeing “real-live policy making” in addition to his political philosophy background.

“Having experience in the real world is always helpful,” said Grey, “when applying to graduate school, and LSE greatly appreciated the background in American policy which my internship brought to the table.”

He also attributed his application’s success to the Weiss Summer Research Program. Grey, who is also an English major, researched in Summer 2018 how author Joseph Conrad’s letters influenced his novel, Heart of Darkness. The experience, even though not in the realm of Political Science, played an important role in his application to the LSE.

“The ability to say that I have crafted, researched, executed, and presented on a significant scholarly endeavor,” said Grey, “shows demonstrated capability which even a healthy term-paper cannot prove. Weiss demonstrated I am capable of putting in the work required for the M.Sc.”

Grey credited several mentors at Holy Cross for his achievements, including Profs. Madigan Haley and Sarah Stanbury of English, Profs. Alex Hindman and Eric Fleury of Political Science, and Dr. Anthony Cashman, Director of the Weiss Summer Research Program in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Fine Arts.

When asked to give advice to future Holy Cross students considering graduate study, Grey said that it’s important to take chances and to highlight your accomplishments.

“You never know what graduate committees will find interesting about you,” said Grey, “Yours could be a voice they want in the classroom as it brings a unique perspective to a room of otherwise like-minded people. If you find an interesting way to craft your story, no matter what that story may be, there is no telling what might happen.”

Moot Court Performs Well at National Championship

Members of Holy Cross Moot Court team
From L to R: Renu Mukherjee ’19, assistant coach Neil Petersen ’04, Ryan Parslow ’19, coach John O’Donnell ’04

The Holy Cross Moot Court team performed well on the national stage earlier this year, earning several honors while competing in the American Moot Court National Championship Team in January at the Florida A&M University College of Law.

Moot court competitions feature students arguing for and against positions on certain legal issues. This year’s national tournament included cases on affirmative action, freedom of speech, and academic freedom.  Teams, composed of two students each, will then argue for each side in different rounds. They also field questions from judges which can expose weaknesses in or limits to their arguments.

The Holy Cross senior team of Ryan Parslow and Renu Mukherjee finished fifth at the competition, placing them in the top one-percent of teams in the nation. Sophomores Willem McGee and Natalie DeCoste also performed well, finishing seventeenth and earning a spot among the top five-percent of national teams. In addition, the other Holy Cross teams boosted the College’s collective rank with strong performances.

“Having top ranks in moot court is satisfying because our students deserve to be recognized for their skill, effort, and dedication,” said coach John O’Donnell ’04. “Watching these students engage with a problem, struggle with it, and agonize with it instills an unspeakable sense of pride.”

Mukherjee ’19, has been a member of moot court since her freshmen year, and it has led her to discover interests in constitutional law and political philosophy. Mukherjee, a Political Science major, is now looking to earn a master’s degree in Political Philosophy, as well as attend law school.

“Competing in the tournament felt surreal, as it does every time I get up to argue for Moot,” said Mukherjee. “Ryan and I put in a lot of hours of work this year, and while we felt prepared, we never expected to make it as far as we did.”

Parslow ’19 discussed how Moot Court has helped him develop critical skills to a future career in law such as critically analyzing information, writing clearly, and feeling more comfortable with oral presentations.

“Moot Court has impacted my academic experience and professional goals tremendously,” said Parslow. “I wanted to be a lawyer before entering Holy Cross, and Moot Court affirmed my desire to do so because of the ability to represent a client and formulate an argument on their behalf.

McGee ’21 and DeCoste ’21, both Political Science majors, each described how much Moot Court has played a role in their Holy Cross experiences. They are considering applying to law school after graduation.

“Joining Moot has defined so much of my experience here on the Hill, even in just my first two years,” said McGee. “Moot has exposed me to a group of passionate and talented individuals who have become some of my closest friends and mentors. Moot has bolstered my personal, academic, and professional development by immersing me in this challenging environment and constantly pushing me to grow.”

“Being surrounded by some of the brightest minds Holy Cross has to offer has pushed me to work harder and excel both in Moot and in my other classes,” said Decoste. “Being able to benefit from experiential learning has reaffirmed my desire to practice law, if not made that desire stronger.”

Corey ’18 Reflects on Impact of Ignite Fund Experience

Student stands in middle of busy European market

This reflection piece was written by Patricia Corey ’18, currently a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Latvia. She received an Ignite Fund grant in 2018 to travel to Russia as part of a research project titled, “The Moscow Metro System and its Hidden Figures.” Learn more about the Ignite Fund and apply before the April 12 deadline! Read more about Patty’s experience in the Fulbright program in this recent blog post at ProFellow!

In the summer of 2018, I received an international travel grant through the Ignite Fund to pursue my research project entitled, “The Moscow Metro System and its Hidden Figures” by flying to Moscow, Russia for two weeks. It was essential to go to Moscow to analyze and photograph twenty-five metro stations that have been created recently under the Putin administration. Since the Ignite Fund funded all of my travel expenses, I not only was able to photograph these beautifully artistic and unique stations, I also had the opportunity to stay with a Russian host mother yet again, mirroring my semester and Maymester abroad. Now that I am six months into my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship grant in Liepāja, Latvia, my short time abroad this past summer with the help of the Ignite Fund proves helpful to both my Russian and Latvian language development and communication skills with various people.

Since I stayed with a Russian host mother in June, I was able to brush up my Russian skills before moving to Latvia. Even though it is not essential to know Russian in Latvia to communicate, I felt that the fact that I know Russian well gives me an advantage. Firstly, I am able to learn Latvian easier since Russian and Latvian grammar systems are similar. Secondly, I am able to communicate with Russian-speaking wait staff or colleagues without a translator. For example, just the other week I used my Russian exclusively at Grobiņa High School (11 km outside Liepāja) to communicate with the lead principal of the school. Without my developed Russian language skills, we would have needed a translator, most likely a student, to assist us. To me, speaking Russian in Liepāja seems like a survival language that I only use when either Latvian or English will not suffice. However, in these moments of communicating in sometimes stressful and professional situations, I am thankful for the opportunity to have been able to continue my Russian language skills even after graduation with the help of the Ignite Fund.

Additionally, since my research project combined political, historical, and artistic elements, I have been able to use my metro photographs as inspiration for lesson plans to help me teach English in an interesting, adventurous, and creative way. My project inspired me to always use art as a medium to spark new ideas and imagination, which has led me to also use Latvian, Russian, and French art depicting landscape scenes to help students create their own stories in English. In conclusion, the Ignite Fund’s generosity has helped me complete my research, further my Russian language and Latvian skills, and as given me creative ideas for lessons as a teacher in the U.S. Fulbright Program. This experience has prepared me, in part to communicate and teach well here in Liepāja, Latvia.

Spending a Semester at Gallaudet

The below post is a reflection by Juliana Holcomb ’19, who studies Psychology and American Sign Language/Deaf Studies. She studied at Gallaudet University in Spring 2018 through the Semester Away program.

The College of the Holy Cross has provided me with countless opportunities to engage in the two-fold goal of Jesuit higher education: excellence in scholarship and service to others in order to improve society. However, the most impactful experience I have had was my semester at Gallaudet University. Studying at Gallaudet allowed me to become an effective ally to the Deaf community: to learn more about how stigma, discrimination, and prejudice affect this community and embrace the history of American Deaf culture by being fully immersed within it. My semester at Gallaudet University has encouraged me to wholly participate in the Jesuit ideal of not only being a “woman for others” but also “a woman with others” while learning many valuable life lessons along the way.

As I first entered Gallaudet University on a frigid January evening, I knew had stepped into a society vastly different than the one I was accustomed to at Holy Cross. From its architecture to cyclical seating in the classrooms and light-up doorbells, Gallaudet is the only university in the world created barrier-free for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. When I say “Deaf”, with a capital “D”, I am referring to Deaf individuals who identify as part of the Deaf community: a cultural and linguistic minority group.  This group is tightknit, supportive, and community-oriented even in the face of discrimination and prejudice that they experience in numerous different settings due to the social perception of their deafness.  As a double Psychology and American Sign Language (ASL)/Deaf Studies major, I was immediately drawn to the semester away program at Gallaudet in order to become a better ally to the Deaf community now as well as in my future career. At this institution, Deafness is not defined as a medical condition or something that requires “repair.” Rather, Deafness represents a rich cultural history that started within the United States in 1816, includes the full-time usage of ASL, and encompasses the shared experiences of being Deaf in a predominantly hearing world.  In this environment, I am an outsider and have often felt this label. However, in order to be “a woman for and with others”, it is critical that I identify my privilege, as a hearing person, while fully respecting others whose lived experiences differ from mine.

Although my experience at Gallaudet was one of my most memorable, I would be lying if I said that the transition to Gallaudet was easy.  Arriving at a campus that I knew I did not fit into was a challenge. As I watched my parents drive away, I had tears welling up in my eyes and could not help but think to myself: “what am I doing here?”  After gathering my textbooks and organizing my new dorm room, I decided I would venture to the dining hall for dinner.  Walking into this new environment, I was slightly overwhelmed by the large number of people, the noise level (which was surprisingly loud for a Deaf university), and my immediate realization that there were few empty seats.  My eyes darted left to right and back, looking for an empty table.  I found one hidden in the far back corner and quickly dropped my books, made a salad, and started to walk back towards the table.  I became confused because this isolated table I intentionally placed my belongings on was now filled with other students’ backpacks, books, and laptops. Slightly concerned but optimistic, I sat down and started to eat.  A few minutes later, a large friend group sat at the table and engulfed me on either side. I smiled at them, hoping it would indicate that I was friendly, but my attempt at engaging seemed to be ignored. The group started to have an exciting conversation around me, and in that moment, I truly felt invisible.  I was trying to keep up with what they were saying, but I can honestly say I could not follow the conversation in the slightest – their signing was the fastest I had ever witnessed!  In this moment, I had a glimpse into the life of a Deaf person in the hearing world.  I began to understand how isolating inaccessible conversations were.  In the Deaf community, there is a commonly used term called “dinner table syndrome.”  This phrase is used to describe a familial setting, often around the dinner table, in which hearing family members are talking, sharing information, telling jokes, and enjoying each other’s company, solely through a spoken language with little to no attempt of using sign language.  The Deaf family member sits at the table tries to keep up with often little to no avail (MT & Associates, 2018).  As this is a common theme in the Deaf community, I had learned about it multiple times and understood that it was a significant issue for Deaf individuals.  However, until I felt just a small portion of that isolation and exclusion, I realized I had not truly understood why Deaf people were so hurt by it.  Although my experience at Gallaudet is not the same as a Deaf person who is constantly interacting with the hearing world, a small glimpse into this experience multiplied my empathy and support for members of this community, especially those who feel like they do not belong in the hearing world.

In addition to a deeper sense of empathy, I acquired a significant amount of humility throughout my experience at Gallaudet.  When socially situated in a position of power, it is easy to become accustomed to that level of influence and privilege in daily life.  My identity as a hearing, Caucasian, and female college student carries a significant amount of privilege that many others do not share.  I did not realize that the confidence I had in the classroom and in social settings stemmed, in part, from systemic features of my educational background as a hearing individual.  This was seen poignantly throughout my first few days of classes at Gallaudet.  My first course was entitled “Dynamics of Oppression.”  In this course, we analyzed large areas of prejudice and analyzed its intersectionality with audism and ableism.  I remember walking to class thirty minutes early, getting a seat, taking out a notebook (before I realized notebooks are not commonly used at Gallaudet – it is more important to watch the professor signing), and waiting patiently for class to start.  My professor, a lively Deaf man, excitedly asked us to introduce ourselves with our name, class year, and reason for taking this course.  I knew I could sign the first two sections of this request; however, the last part?  That could get a little tricky.  Especially since ASL has a different grammatical structure that English, I was still struggling with making clean translations from one to another.  When it got to my turn, I said, “Hello! My name is Juliana.  I am a visiting student.”  Before I could even attempt the last part of my introduction, the professor interrupted and said “are you hearing?”  Due to my mediocre signing, I shyly signed back “yes.”  He erupted with laughter and signed back, “IS THIS YOUR FIRST CLASS? GOD BLESS YOU!  YOU NEED LUCK AND GOD.”  Confused, I laughed and hoped he was being dramatic.  I truly wanted to learn as much as possible from my courses and immerse myself in this community.  Other than my awkward introduction, my first class went decently well.  I understood approximately 70-75% of the signing and knew I had a lot of improving to do but felt hopeful.

However, my second class of the day was a mixed undergraduate and graduate course. “Sign Language Rights and Advocacy” seemed fascinating, and I was excited to learn about the promotion of sign languages on a national and international scale in addition to the multiple settings in which it is advocated.  I walked into the classroom, sat down, and read over the syllabus until the class started.  My professor explained that she would go over the syllabus shortly, but first, we were going to do an activity.  She asked us to break into groups of three or four and then described the directions for the game.  I wish I could write about what those were; unfortunately, I understood next to nothing. All I could figure out was that there was a pen involved (because she was pointing at the pen repeatedly), and group members had to come up to the front of the room and do something with the pen.  My stomach sunk as I desperately watched my group members chat, trying to understand what was going on.  Then, a kind student turned to me with a smile and said: “So, what do you think?” Truthfully, I was thinking that I had no idea how I was going to spend a semester at this school and how I would acquire ASL quick enough to fit in.  I thought about the safety and comfort I had acquired at Holy Cross and how much I was missing it.  I was also reminiscing on my “past” identity as a student in which I participated regularly in class, went to office hours weekly, and actively engaged with the class material.  That student seemed to be a distant memory as I sat in this classroom, unable to even respond to a simple question.  My response to my partner translates to something like this: “Pen.  We must go get.  Who has power to get the pen?”  Pushing aside their quizzical looks, my partners began to explain the objective to me. Then, they asked about my experience so far and told me about the great things they were able to accomplish at Gallaudet.  In that moment, I realized that this community, although small and tightknit, was caring and accepting of hearing individuals who tried to learn ASL, strived to become an ally for their rights, and followed behindthem in their pursuit for justice.  Although faced with prejudice, discrimination, and even hate, this beautiful, cultural community was made up of so many fantastic people that taught me about perseverance in the face of adversity, the importance of collectivism, and humility.  Throughout my time at Gallaudet, I had many humbling experiences which allowed me to realize that many of the opportunities I was given were, in large part, resultant of specific types of privilege in my life.  Thus, this experience not only allowed me to immerse myself into a different culture but also provided me with a new worldview and prompted me to be a “woman with others.”

Throughout the past three and a half years, Holy Cross has provided me with the opportunity to pursue both Psychology and ASL/Deaf Studies majors. As a result, I have become deeply passionate about mental health advocacy and treatment, especially in the Deaf community.  My experience at Gallaudet allowed me to work in a psychological research lab, Dr. Poorna Kushalnagar’s “Deaf Health Communications and Quality of Life Lab”, which allowed me to investigate these topics further.  Although there is no correlation between audition and mental distress, Deaf individuals have shown elevated rates of mental illness in comparison to their hearing counterparts (Kvam, Loeb, & Tambs, 2007). Such mental health disparities arise from the lack of accessible mental health information, resources, and treatment coupled with the stigma this community faces. In other words, the increased mental health problems in the Deaf community are avoidable. Therefore, I decided that becoming a Clinical Psychologist for Deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults would utilize both of my academic passions in a way that would serve others. Through this career, I will strive to be an ally to the Deaf community by listening to and respecting their opinions, advocating for socially just policies, and reducing the deleterious stigma that affects many in this community. Through its in-depth courses and influential professors, Holy Cross has ignited a passion within me to not only provide mental health services to members of the Deaf community but to also stand with them in their efforts for accessibility, equal representation, and equity.

Although my experience at Gallaudet University was filled with challenges ranging from using ASL for every aspect of my day to being an outcast in social settings, it has provided me with the insight to connect classroom material to everyday life while further investigating social injustices within this cultural and linguistic minority group. My experiences at Gallaudet University have fueled my passion to continue on both my academic and personal journeys in order to more fully become a “woman for and with others.”

Reference:

Dinner Table Syndrome and Deaf | MT&A Sign Language Interpreting. (2018, December 03). Retrieved from https://www.mtapractice.com/2016/12/02/dinner-table-syndrome-deaf/

Kvam, M. H., Loeb, M., & Tambs, K. (2007) Mental Health in Deaf Adults: Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression Among Hearing and Deaf Individuals, The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12(1), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enl015

Five Things I’ve Learned From Experiential Learning

Kara Cuzzone on a New York City street
Kara Cuzzone ’19

By Kara Cuzzone ’19

Between three community-based learning (CBL) sites and two internships, I’ve had my fair share of experiential learning opportunities during my time at Holy Cross. It’s ironic because when I started college, it wasn’t even on my radar. Sure, I had chosen a Montserrat course with a CBL component, but that was more about wanting to pursue a service opportunity, not an interest in learning outside of the classroom. Considering I’m writing this blog post, it’s safe to say that I’ve come a long way. That’s why I thought I would share some nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way. Below, find the five things I’ve learned from experiential learning.

You’ll Never Feel Fully Prepared, Go for It Anyway

This is one factor that scares students (and even professors). Because classroom environments can be planned and structured, they are a lot more predictable than an experiential learning environment. As a result, you probably won’t feel totally ready before your first day, or even your first month, at you CBL site or internship position. That’s okay. In fact, these are often the experiences where deep learning occurs because lessons aren’t rigidly planned, so there’s room for discovery.

Be Open to What You Can Receive in CBL, Not Just What You Can Give

If you had told me in the beginning that I’d still be visiting my CBL site, St. Mary’s Healthcare Center, I don’t think I’d believe you. After all, I wanted to do something, not just sit and talk with my resident. I doubted that I was even making an impact there. Then, I started to just show up and be present. Almost immediately, the experience changed. I realized that not only was I forming a relationship with my resident, but she was having a profound impact on me. I always left our visits with a new perspective on life and a smile on my face. There is always something to be gained when engaging with those who are different from us, you just have to be open to seeing it.

Not Everything Can be Learned in the Classroom

It’s just true. You can read, study, and analyze a subject all you want, but until you get out and engage with it, you won’t get the full picture. I noticed this particularly through the Education Department’s Student Mental Health seminar I took this fall. In part of the course, we learned about trauma-informed teaching practices, and how to implement them to create a safe, welcoming environment for all students. That said, I didn’t fully grasp the importance of these practices until I witnessed them firsthand through a site visit at Woodland Academy. It took the conceptual and made it real.

Take Advantage of the Holy Cross Network

I know you’ve heard this one before, but I mean it. The New York Semester Program opened my eyes to how not only willing, but genuinely excited Holy Cross alumni are to mentor current students. Almost every week during the program, we attended a lunch or dinner colloquium where we heard from an alum about their career path and their current role. Through one of these colloquia meetings, I met an alumna who has provided me with invaluable advice and even helped me secure a summer internship.

Make Time to Reflect on Your Experiences

During my Montserrat course, we were required to write weekly reflections about our CBL experiences, and while I don’t do it weekly anymore, this is still a practice that I come back to. Experiential learning in itself is great, but sometimes I don’t even realize the lessons I’ve learned, or revelations I’ve had, until I sit down and write about them. By taking time to slow down and unpack what you’ve experienced, you’ll be able to gain new insights that you might’ve missed along the way.

Kara Cuzzone ’19 is a senior Anthropology major. Read more of her work at karacuzzone.com

 

How The New York Semester Program Shaped My Post-Grad Plans

Photo by Kara Cuzzone

By Kara Cuzzone

If you had asked me about my post-grad plans a little over a year ago, I would have answered with a shrug and a tentative, “Maybe a year of service?” While doing a year of service is a fitting option for a lot of students, for me, it was more of a placeholder; a way to buy myself more time to figure things out. Then, I did the New York Semester Program and that all changed.

During my first year at Holy Cross, I discovered my passion for writing through being an editorial contributor for thelala.com, a website for college-aged women. After applying on a whim, I fell in love with pitching story ideas and writing my own articles. In the back of my mind, I wondered if maybe I could turn this newfound passion into a career one day, but I wasn’t sure what that would even look like. So when I learned that I could intern in women’s media through the New York Semester Program I thought, “This is my chance to see what it’s really like.”

Thanks to some help from the Center for Career Development, as well as advice from former New York Semester participants, I landed an internship position as a features intern for the print divisions of Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines. Fast forward to late January, and I found myself entering Hearst Tower and riding the infamous escalators in what felt like my very own movie scene. It would be nice if I could say that from that first day, I knew I belonged in the editorial world. However, that just isn’t true. The truth is that it took a couple of months in the position for me to realize two things: I wanted to work in women’s media someday, but I was curious about what working on the digital side of women’s media would be like.

With these new revelations in mind, I decided to start looking for a summer internship at a digital publication. I ended up securing one at byrdie.com, a beauty and wellness site. From day one, it was a completely different experience than working at Hearst. My internship at Byrdie exposed me to the fast-paced world of digital content creation. It also solidified my belief that, at least at this point in my life, I prefer the cadence of digital publishing.

Because of these internship experiences, I know that I want to move back to New York City and pursue a writing career in women’s media after graduation. Not only that, but since I have already had experience in both the print and digital sectors, I can use my insights from those positions to seek out publications that I think will be a good fit for me. I also met wonderful editors through both internships who I feel confident in turning to for advice on the job search process. Had I not done the New York Semester program, I highly doubt I would even know where to begin in forming my post-grad plans.

Kara Cuzzone ’19 is a senior Anthropology major. Read more of her work at karacuzzone.com