March 28, 2011 - 7:28 AM
We're back from another fabulous trip to the border for a week working with No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes http://nomoredeaths.org/ . I recommend looking back at my other blogs about these trips so you get a sense of what this work usually entails and the variety of experiences I've had. This trip was a fabulous one, particularly because of the wonderful people I was traveling and working with. It was also very different than my past volunteer experiences.
Usually No More Deaths utilizes volunteer workers to patrol the highest use migrant trails, putting out gallons of water and searching for people that might be lost or in need of help. These trails are well-established and have been mapped over the years by No More Deaths volunteers. You can tell the high-use trails because the migrants as they cross abandon items along their path. When people are desperate, they don't pack out their trash. This means that trails are lined with empty water bottles, tin cans, and food wrappers. But there are also more personal items: broken shoes, backpacks, pants, shirts, toothbrushes, underwear, perfume bottles, pictures, notes from home. My past trips working with No More Deaths have been an experience defined by the tracks and discarded items of migrants crossing in desperation and fear, who face the desert unprepared and sometimes hopelessly lost.
This spring break trip was about those who do not complete the journey.
Last year, the bodies of 253 migrants were found in the Arizona desert. That's the number of bodies found in a vast wasteland of arroyos and washes, mountains and flash floods. I've heard estimation that only one in five bodies is actually found. Another estimation is only one in ten.
When a body is found, it's not on one of those high-use trails. Those are defined and so trafficked that generally a person in a desperate situation would be encountered on the trail and would get some kind of help. Our spring break was spent in the areas where bodies had been found: in the empty spaces with unused trails and cow paths, where a miss turn can lead to disorientation and eventually to death.
Our work this week was in starting the process of mapping these empty spaces. We were searching for new areas to leave water, and new indications of travel along these smaller trails. We didn't place water, but we lived and walked in an area where bodies had been found in the previous two years. I, for one, lived in the constant knowledge that the area was filled with the suffering of unknown people, perhaps thousands in the very night when I was sleeping. Since October first of last year, forty bodies have been found.
I've presented here a very bleak portrait of spring break. It's hard to explain exactly what my experience was. The Sonora Desert is a sad place to me: one full of suffering and death. But it is also a place of extreme and rugged beauty, a place where I feel the lightness of being in the center of a cause, working as hard as I can. Our group was full of wonderful and hilarious people, and we spent as much time laughing and singing around camp as we did sitting with the pain and difficulties of the work.
I have more stories to share of this spring break. I have pictures as well (one of the members of our trip is studying photography at the UO). I'll be sharing them both over the next week or so. For now, I've got to get my head back into life in Eugene. Classes start today, as does my GTF and the work of student life. My heart is still in the desert. It will be for days.
March 18, 2011 - 12:30 AM
In four and a half hours, I will be leaving for my fifth trip with No More Deaths http://nomoredeaths.org/ on the US/Mexico Border! I'll be working for the week with five UO students, some undergraduates and one fellow member of the CRES program. We'll be camping, hiking, giving aid to migrants on the trails, and working with some of the most interesting and committed people I have ever encountered. This will be my fifth week with No More Deaths; my third spring break; and my third birthday on the border.
So for the next week, you know where to find me. I'm planning on the perfect combination of weather, work, and something completely different. For the next week I will not have computer access. No internet, no essays, no homework. Also no showers or real toilets. No mossy trees, no constant rain. No bed and fireplace and walk to school. None of the constants in my life, the good and the bad and the routine.
Life is kept interesting by little bits of change. Although I've had enough experiences with No More Deaths that I know what to expect, it is such a dramatically different slice of life than the one I live in Eugene. Everyone needs a spring break. My friends are camping, hiking, climbing, visiting family, etc. In one way or another, I sort of feel like I'm doing all those things.
We have a photographer and a film student coming with us this trip. So things should be well-documented on my return. Keep the internet warm for me! Signing off now to get some sleep.
March 16, 2011 - 8:06 PM
My favorite part of winter term has been working as a Graduate Teaching Fellow.
It's been a wonderful combination of University work: logistics, planning for conferences, working for the Honors College, and teaching. As always, I am thrilled to be working with the Inside-Out Program, and feel lucky every time I clock in for work. But this term has been amazing in that I am actually helping lead a classroom for Inside-Out. And, as of yesterday, that class has ended with huge success.
Co-facilitating "Institutional Inequalities and Individual Lives" with Sociology Professor Ellen Scott has been an incredible experience. I last wrote about the class in January (http://www.isupportuoregon.org/my_duckstory/blog/katie_d/update_on_the_insideout_class) while the class was still hitting its stride. We finished the term with some of the most profound conversations, true human connection, and an interaction with the course material that went far beyond anything I have experienced during a ten-week term. We explored the sociology of structural inequalities in American society, and applied those theories to our own lives and circumstances. In the process, we learned about ourselves and our histories, coming to understand why we are who we are in a delicate balance of structure and agency that has shaped our lives.
Our students dove into the course material. We discussed David Shipler's book The Working Poor, in which he discusses the status of working-class people in America. Students from both the inside and the outside could see themselves and their histories in the text: either the precarious nature of low-wage jobs without benefits, or the ways they had themselves been privileged by the economic and social system. As we discussed social stratification, we began to understand a little of why some of us were arriving in class by way of the University of Oregon, while others met us at the classroom door from their cells in the Oregon State Penitentiary. I realized, myself, that I had never made the choice to be a college student: I had worked hard in school, but I was placed on a college track before I was even of school age. It's just what was expected of me. An inside student shared a tiny bit of his background, and told us that when he was growing up he couldn't have even imagined living a middle-class life. While most of us sat in silence, considering this, it was a fellow inside student who challenged him. "You COULDN'T imagine it, even seeing it on TV and knowing it was around you? Or you didn't WANT to imagine it." His classmate replied, "I didn't even know it was there. Not for me."
There's something I can't imagine.
Every time I enter an Inside-Out activity, I know it will change my life again. The ability to engage in dialogue, to see into another person's life, and to share a piece of my own is such an empowering and inspiring thing. This is education at its best and most basic: the bringing alive ideas within the student's life. I believe in that idea as a student, a beginning teacher, and as a human being.
It seems to me that we often go through life with few deep examinations of ourselves. We waltz through our days, happy in our friendships and safe within our social circles. We engage in the routines we love, and the activities that bring us joy and meaning (if we are lucky). With Inside-Out, I have found an activity that brings me into immediate contact with the complex and hidden in the world. It asks me to really see myself, and to see other people who are so often overlooked.
And now, with the final class ceremony to close the term, my first term as an Inside-Out co-instructor has ended. I worked hard and did my best. I shared everything I could with my students: I read their response papers, I helped them write their essays. I ran the logistics for the course. I drove the van. I shared my opinions, my dreams, and the truth of myself.
Here's to another wonderful class behind me! Thank you to all my students, inside and out. Thank you to Ellen Scott. Thank you all for your openness, your honesty, and your compassion. This class has taught me everything, and brought deep and enduring inspiration.
March 15, 2011 - 7:09 PM
Every Inside-Out class ends with a formal closing ceremony to celebrate the class and our time together. It is a chance to have informal time together to say goodbye, and an opportunity to speak formally about the meaning of the term. I have been a part of three closing ceremonies now, three 'graduations' from Inside-Out. I cry every time. Because of the No Contact policy, the inside students out outside students will not be able to see each other again, they can't talk on the phone, visit, or write. A goodbye at the end of Inside-Out is goodbye forever. And after a ten-week class together, goodbye is a difficult thing.
As a employee of the program this time, I knew I would be returning to OSP for future classes and work with the inside students as part of the program. So my sadness this class was for the parting of our group: the community we had created during those ten weeks and the times we had shared. I was sad for the participants of our group, and the loss they were experiencing.
Each final day together begins with a meal. This is a deeply meaningful experience for me. There is something so human and basic about breaking bread together. There is also something powerful about sharing food from the outside with folks in prison. We shopped at Costco before the class: five UO students and myself, wandering the shelves with our list of approved food to bring in, and imagining what we would most like to eat if it had been years since we had had a choice. We got fresh, beautiful fruit (strawberries and cantaloupe by request) and vegetables (with real Ranch dressing, which is apparently substituted for mayonnaise with pepper at OSP). We got sushi and cupcakes and chips with mango salsa. We got lots of pizza, and lots of dessert. Then we carried the whole banquet up to our classroom, and sat in little groups, sharing food together.
I love that time--it feels like freedom. I watched the room of students I'd come to know so well, and felt inspired by everything we had done together. I felt, again and again, that being in that room was an honor and a privilege. And I chatted with the students around me, talking about everything from politics to program evaluation and, of course, the food.
Then we had speeches. The students had voted for four speakers to present their experiences to the class. Francisco went first, and spoke so movingly about the power of this class, which helped him find a voice and a belief in his own power. He told us to love life, and everyone in it. We all got choked up, and all felt so proud. Then Kehala spoke. She spoke about the class, and then she sang. I've attached a link to the Youtube she sent to us. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxUpC2Pv5ho ) It's an adaptation of Irish sayings, and she said it expressed what she wanted for all of us. I couldn't believe she was there, singing a cappella in an almost-crying voice. The "crowd" went nuts. Then Sterling spoke, addressing us with his directness and candor, his humor we all loved so much. He talked about taking college for the first time, and the feeling of leaving prison for the duration of the class, as he focused on being a student. The classroom was free space, even within the prison. Josh went last, speaking from his heart and his economics training. He spoke about our class and what we had learned, bringing us all back as witnesses to our own experiences.
Then we sat in our circle, and each had a chance to speak freely and informally, giving something to the group for our memories, taking the respect and affirmation of the group. Then we said our goodbyes and parted. Just like that, off to resume life. With Kehala's song still echoing in my mind, we walked out of our classroom in OSP. It is a rare thing to have such a finality to a phase of life.
As I told the group, I will carry all of them with me forever. I will work as I can for social justice and for human connection, always in their honor and always with them in mind. So, like all things, the experience doesn't end.
"May the wind be always at your back,
and the sun shine warm upon your face
may the rains fall softly on your field
until the day we meet again..."
March 13, 2011 - 10:23 PM
Here we are again: the inevitable end of term. It comes around every ten weeks like clockwork, and yet it somehow always sneaks up on me. Every single time I seem to arrive at the weekend before finals and am surprised by how much work is left to do.
I guess I shouldn't paint such a bleak picture. In the past week I've already written approximately forty-four of the fifty or so pages assigned for the end of term. So I'm almost there: I've almost finished. That's right, though--fifty pages. That's three long final essays, plus two short ones that snuck into the final week of classes. Like an extra prize-bonus to remind us about multi-tasking.
It really has been a marathon of an end of school. In some ways, Graduate School has been very much the same as undergrad. This first year of the CRES program includes very little independent work, and quite an extensive amount of time in the classroom. I've had more reading, and more skills-based classes. But mostly things are the same as undergrad.
Except the length of the finals. Oof.
All complaining aside, all this essay writing has actually been kind of fun. We've had a great deal of freedom to choose our own topics, and so I've picked a line-up that has been interesting and engaging. Since I've bothered to write the pages, I hope you'll be bothered to read the summaries:
Working Abroad. Our assignment for this class was to write about the country we will be working in. We were assigned the task of learning about the history, the political situation, the pragmatics of living there, and to give due consideration to the concerns we might have and the preparations we should make. I read academic works, skimmed through novels, read the local paper, and have begun listening to the local radio daily on the internet. However, for now, I will leave you in suspense as to the location of my internship this summer. The final details are not in place, and I would hate to give you false information. But I will be working and conducting research abroad for two months of this summer, and the preparation is already going well! I can hardly wait.
Cross-Cultural Communications. For this final, we could choose to either write about a culture in depth, and discuss how the individuals from that culture might react to conflict; or we could choose a conflict and write about how culture played into the situation, and its resolution. I chose to write about the culture of American prisons. I actually had a wonderful time researching some of the theories of adaptation to prison life, and some of the resulting psychological factors and conflict situations. I also enjoyed bringing in some of our class content about human needs, identity theory, and power relations in relation with this topic. We were invited to include personal experiences when relevant, so I discussed some of the things I have witnessed in working in Oregon and Pennsylvania prisons.
Mediation Skills. This essay was assigned as an in-depth study of how mediation and related skills could be applied in conflict resolution. The topics could be as broad as discussing an aspect of "normal" relationships (such as the role of lawyers in mediation, or comparing different mediation styles), or it could be as broad as international mediation. I chose to write about ADR and mediation in prisons. I found some very interesting case-studies of conflict resolution programs in prisons, from nonviolent communication and anger management to conflict resolution training for prison staff. Although I discussed prison culture briefly as background and context, there was little overlap between this final and my Cross-Cultural Communications essay. My favorite part of this research was finding a variety of studies about post secondary education in prisons, and the impact this has on inmate conduct and prison culture. I was very glad to have the freedom to discuss the aspects of mediation in a broad way, and to find the ideas most exciting and relevant to my life and studies.
As happens each term, I have barely a moment to think about things ending. I will be glad to see this term end in many ways, and will miss it in some others. Next term will hold a fabulous new assortment of class, work, and research. I'll be looking for a new house next year, and preparing for the summer. I'll hopefully start rock climbing again, and will perhaps go to the coast (it's been months!) As happens in academic life, a term ends and everything changes. So here's to the last essay pages of winter term, 2011! On to spring!