In the 2018-2019 academic year, approximately 150 undergraduate students from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez participated in an ongoing large-scale public humanities project, “Mi María: Puerto Rico after the Hurricane.” As active collaborators on the project, students conducted research, collected oral histories and other multimodal forms of self-narration, crafted digital projects, and curated aspects of the Humanities Action Lab exhibition and our breakout exhibition dedicated to Puerto Rico.
This project is part of a larger curriculum of disaster pedagogy that Dr. Chansky has designed to foster empowerment in her students in the aftermaths of Hurricane María. This curriculum reinforces the positive roles that self-narrating and witnessing can play in recovery as they are able to help narrators re-envision themselves as active agents after experiences of trauma by repositioning them as protagonists in their life stories. Life stories function as bridges forward to a new self (a tentative reconciling of the pre- and post-disaster self) that may very well allow us to continue in different ways the business of living.
In the autumn 2018 semester, UPRM Professors Ricia Anne Chansky and Jocelyn Géliga Vargas trained approximately 100 undergraduate students in the ethical collection, transcription, and translation of oral histories. The students—all survivors of Hurricane María and its ongoing aftermaths—interviewed community members about their experiences with disaster. In partnership with Voice of Witness, a nonprofit organization dedicated to amplifying voices for social justice, students prepared long-form narratives that follow a birth-to-now approach. Some of these narratives will be included in a volume published in the Voice of Witness series at Haymarket Books, coedited by Ricia Anne Chansky, Marci Denesiuk, Jocelyn Géliga Vargas, and Yarelmi Iglesias Vazquez.
In the spring 2019 semester, fifty additional students joined the project, conducting further research with Dr. Chansky on the post-disaster space, gathering multimodal narratives of Hurricane María, and preparing and curating contributions to the Humanities Action Lab “Initiative on Climate and Environmental Justice.” Students located and analyzed other forms of self-narration, such as radio broadcasts, song lyrics, photography, and micro-narratives as well as worked together to edit and curate the oral histories gathered in the previous semester.
Banner photograph: Students in the autumn 2018 oral history workshops at UPRM led by Dr. Chansky and Dr. Géliga Vargas listen to a Skype lecture. Courtesy of Ricia Anne Chansky.