Tag Archive | Advocacy

Grace: USM event on barriers to education and finishing up research

A few weeks ago I went to an event at the University of Southern Maine on the barriers New Mainers face in navigating higher education. There was a panel of refugees ranging from high school students to one of my co-workers at Catholic Charities who finished law school. There was also a panel of individuals working in service organizations and education. Here is a link to a story MPBN did on the event: MPBN event.

After the event at USM, I was able to interview two individuals working at different local high schools. Our conversations were fascinating, and I was surprised to find out how high the percentage of refugee and immigrant students were in the two schools (at the school in downtown Portland it’s about 1/4, and at the other school ten minutes out of town it’s about 1/3). In both conversations we spoke about barriers these students face, the biggest being language, as well as the programs schools are using to address these issues.

The interviews I have been able to conduct have been very rewarding and I have met some of the nicest people through the process. That said, it has been a lot more difficult than I expected to get individuals to commit to an interview. I feel that my project is only just now really gaining some ground and I don’t feel ready to return to school for the senior conference and then classes. I am excited to start the writing process again, but I feel as if I need more time to follow up on all of the new contacts I have been given (perhaps I will have to come back to Portland on the weekends or conduct interviews over the phone). I do not know if one ever feels quite finished with this type of research, but I definitely feel as if I need more closure to this project. Six weeks has felt like just enough time to get my bearings and to skim the surface. It is hard to leave just as I am getting at the good stuff!


Caroline: Bennington in New Orleans

The more interviews I do the more strongly I believe that returning to New Orleans in a professional capacity is an important thing for me to do. Speaking with New Orleanians working in different ways for environmental groups around the city has not only been enlightening, but inspiring as well. I feel closer to understanding the complexities of the environmental landscape of New Orleans as well as what it is I might want to do with my degree from Bennington. The other night I spoke with a fairly recent Bennington Alum (we actually overlapped one term) who is living in New Orleans and working her dream job with a group called Gulf Restoration Network. We hung out with her dogs and drank wine while we talked, making for another almost ideal interview situation. Speaking with her and others has made me realize how perfect this flawed landscape may be for not only my academic, but my professional interests.

Madeleine: Health and the Body in Maine

First of all, the blog documenting the interview project I talked about in my last post is now live (http://www.justiceinthebody.com/blog/). We’ll be adding many more in the next week or so, so stay tuned!
Other exciting news- I am now helping Justice in the Body launch the Community Healing Fund (CHF). The fund will support community-driven, trauma-sensitive healing projects, classes, and trainings. The idea is for projects to bridge mind-body wellness with trauma and justice informed strategies, as well as be accessible financially and linguistically to underserved populations such as the deaf, immigrants, and refugees.
Two projects currently in the works are trauma- sensitive yoga classes for survivors of torture and women recovering from sexual assault. To help make the yoga class for survivors of torture happen, I am collaborating with the yoga instructor, Maria, and City of Portland Refugee Services where I interned for my FWT last year. Other potential future projects include individual practitioner/ teacher scholarship support for mind-body trainings and Portland yoga teacher training for community members of marginalized populations. Ideally this fund will make different approaches to healing trauma both community based and more widely accessible. The first of what will become monthly community dinners will be happening on February 15 to fundraiser for the CHF. Emma Raine and I are helping to organize the event and the dinner will be a nice culmination to our FWTs.

Grace: Elderly Iraqi Refugee Phone Survey

For the past few weeks, I have been using an over the phone translation service in order to conduct interviews with Iraqi elders in and around Portland and Westbrook, Maine. It has been fascinating and very rewarding to talk with these elderly refugees, but also very overwhelming and sad at times. Elderly refugees face many unique difficulties around issues of health, acculturation, trauma, isolation, etc., and my conversations with individuals touched on many of these challenges.

When I asked an elderly woman if she has any friends around her own age she is able to spend time with, she answered: “No, all of my friends are back home in Iraq. I have only been here for a short time so I haven’t had a chance to meet any new people my age.” Many of the elderly Iraqi refugees I spoke with are in similar situations, and feel very isolated in this new culture, new weather, and their new role within the family/society. One man told me. “I enjoyed my job in Baghdad. Now, I’m new here and I don’t know people. I’m not able to do what I did at home.


Many of the refugees I have spoken with have experienced loss of family members, and some are here on Read More…

Hilary: The Brain Initiative and Public Values

Hello! Hilary Whitney, here. I am in Washington D.C., finishing up my second and final FWT. That’s because I transferred into Bennington as a second-term sophomore, and I’m about to begin my senior year. So far, my undergraduate studies have focused on brain and cognitive sciences, and—since joining Bennington—the realm of public action. I’ve really taken interest with ‘the social life of brain science’. For example, I just wrote my final paper for David Bond’s course, The Anthropology of Science and Technology, on the issue of public literacy in neuroscience—what do most people understand about and learn from fMRI images?


Our office on Connecticut Avenue. CSPO is a part of Arizona State University (ASU).

Here in D.C., I am working with the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (check it out: www.cspo.org). In particular, I focus on a project called Public Value Mapping (PVM). It’s a method for analyzing public programs and their societal impact. The central question of PVM is: What are the public values that justify public investments in scientific research, and what is the capacity of a given research initiative to yield outcomes that support and advance those values?

I got to design my research this FWT, so I am asking Read More…

Scott: The Bennington Sustainable Food Project

This winter I have had the opportunity to have some really fantastic conversations in the interviews I have been conducting with members of the Bennington Sustainable Food Project (BSFP) and administrators at Bennington College.

I have been hearing about the experiences my friends and peers have had here at Bennington and with the BSFP, and have been overawed by their excitement and enthusiasm for Bennington and the educational opportunities offered hereAnd in talking with administrators I’ve been able to pick the brains of the people who shape the Bennington educational experience in a very real way, and see how they think about how students are and should be taught here. The timing of these conversations could nobe better, as I begin to reflect upon my own time here and prepare for my final term. All in all, I count myself lucky as I cherish the opportunity I have been given to conduct this research, have these conversations, and hopefully have a positive influence myself on the education here, all because of how Bennington is structured and the focus that is put upon student driven education.

I very much look forward revisiting these conversation (quite literally as I go back and code my recordings) and to seeing where they take me, it has certainly been a great ride so far.

Grace: Refugees in Maine

Drawing from my past work in anthropology, political science, and public action, I am conducting a yearlong thesis examining the health issues faced by refugees and immigrants in and around Portland, Maine. There are a number of organizations in my home state of Maine working with the new refugee populations (many of whom are from Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Rwanda, and the DRC) that have come to settle around the city of Portland.

During my independent study this Field Work Term I will conduct an informal information and data-gathering project (including surveys, participant observation, and interviews) on the refugees in and around Portland and the organizations and institutions serving them. Ultimately I want the information from this project to help organizations working with these refugees to be more effective in addressing the population’s health needs. This requires that I take a broad look at the different challenges and influences surrounding the health of these refugee populations (e.g. healthcare, housing, food, heating, employment, etc.). Most importantly, I want to include refugee communities and the organizations working with them in the discussion, information gathering process, and the possible knowledge-based action that could come out of the research.

With my last term in the spring, I will further build on the last two terms to create a final piece of work. This piece will take the form of an ethnography, and both analyze how these organizations working with refugees in and around Portland Maine are having an impact on the health of the community, as well as identifying resources for them and supplying a series of recommendations of how they can better impact the health of the refugees. This will allow me to tie all my work together into a succinct form, and would complete the Plan Process for me at Bennington College by allowing me to use the tools I have acquired in anthropology and political science, and apply them to real-world issues through public action.


While living in Portland is growing on me, after a week in the city Read More…

Grace: First Week with Catholic Charities, RIS

For the past week I have been working at Catholic Charities Maine Refugee and Immigration Services (RIS), as their Community Outreach and Capacity Building volunteer. During the past 30 years, Catholic Charities Maine, RIS have resettled over 12,000 refugees from more than 25 countries. RIS is Maine’s only active resettlement program, with contracts from the U.S. Departments of State and Health and Human Services, and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Besides the fact that RIS is the state’s only active resettlement program, one main reason why I was drawn to the organization is because they are working to identify and address potential problems where support services for refugees may be culturally inappropriate, or where those services do not exist (which correlates directly with my research questions).

One of the projects I have been working on this week is finding funding for their Elderly Services program. This has included grant research, phone calls to community members, and the design of a phone survey. This survey could turn into home visits with elderly Iraqi refugees in the area in order to gather information on what programming would be most beneficial to provide in the event that we obtain a grant.


I have been reading through the Portland Press Herald for articles on new Mainers, and found this piece published on Christmas Day: http://www.pressherald.com/news/Safety_the_best_Christmas_gift_for_African_refugee_family_living_in_Maine_.html

Additionally, here is another article from the Portland Press Herald on a proposal by LePage that would prevent asylum seekers and some other immigrants from receiving General Assistance: http://www.pressherald.com/news/LePage_proposal_would_cut_asylum_seekers_from_aid__lifeline_.html

Ali: Human Rights and Cultural Schizophrenia in Pakistan

Ali Faateh here, folks. I’m a senior and I study writing and public action at the college. This FWT, I’m back in my hometown of Lahore, where I’m working as a research assistant for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent, non-state organisation. Mostly I’m helping with their flagship annual publication, “The State of Human Rights in 2013,” and I contribute to their social media campaign too.

(Photos courtesy of Marc and Raphaëlle Chiapolino. A couple are mine.)

different centuries  Golden Mosque

Pakistan is a bundle of contradictions; it lives in different centuries at the same time, firmly rooted in tradition on the one hand while also warily inching—in fact, sometimes hurtling—toward modernity. It’s an unimaginably, ethnically diverse place, so although I’ve lived here all my life, Pakistan never ceases to amuse and amaze me with its cultural schizophrenia. As a “frontline state” in the war on terror and the supposed epicentre of terrorism, Pakistan has lost nearly 50,000 citizens over the past twelve years. Rampant violence, sectarian strife and a independence movement in Balochistan are threatening its existence.


Walled City Badshahi Masjid - Royal Mosque

The HRCP takes the state to task over its failure to protect its citizens; Read More…

Madeleine: Justice and the Body

I’m Madeleine and currently a sophomore studying anthropology and psychology. For FWT I am interning at a year-old grassroots organization called Justice in the Body (JITB) in Portland, Maine. The organization aims to make accessible both alternative healthcare and healing practices, as well as wellness workshops to anyone regardless of income or insurance. Some of the services offered by Justice in the Body include: Somatic Experiencing for healing trauma, an apothecary, restorative yoga, yoga for the queer body, messages, and herbalism classes. Besides accessible wellness and healing services, social justice is also an important element of the organization. JITB believes that social change can not only be addressed externally, but just as importantly can also take place internally within the body and the mind. Talks that have do with mind-body-justice are held weekly. This week’s, which I am excited to attend, is a workshop on interrupting racism.

Another Bennington student who is also interning at JITB, Emma Maasch, and I are currently working on a multimedia project to launch a blog around the question of what justice in the body means to different people. This past week we have been conducting interviews with various people asking them what justice in their body means to them and what it would feel/ look like if they had total justice in their bodies. What we mean by the latter question is if a person were free of external influences (culture, socialization, oppression, family expectations, friends expectations/ demands, etc.) that may or may not cause us to act and present ourselves in a manner which is true to who we are, what does that person think that would feel/ look like for them.
When the blog is up and active I will include the link in an entry, but in the mean time check out their website: justiceinthebody.com.