Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Friday, March 5, 2010

First Person Plural

How Humanities Out There connects high schoolers, tutors and graduate students through shared stories.
By Jillian Tempesta

A bell rings, and the floor begins to shake.
The trailer trembles with the force of fifty students eager to escape class. New students replace them more reluctantly, carrying in the cold. Girls hold up compact mirrors to smooth the rain out of their hair. A guy in an Angels baseball hat jabs his friend with an umbrella as they shove through the door at the same time.
“Did you guys get blown away by the tornado yesterday?” Lani asks about the tornado rumored to have flipped an SUV in Huntington Beach yesterday, January 20. Energy surges as students joke about braving the unusual weather.
A second bell rings, and the Orange High School eleventh grade world history class begins to settle for their next workshop with UC Irvine’s Humanities Out There tutors. Lani, the graduate student leader for this history section of HOT, smiles broadly at students who make eye contact. She’s waiting at the front of the trailer, not leaning against anything, watching them expectantly. School rules and the kind of posters that warn about drugs hang across the room, except for one sea-blue wall with pictures of waves and surfers. Otherwise, the trailer is regulation: a murky carpet, metal bookshelves and fifty desks in rigid rows facing a whiteboard with a detailed agenda. The students grow silent when they sense that Lani is about to speak, and only noise is the muted wind tugging at the closed door.
“Today, we’re gonna look at memory,” she says.
In 1997, the Dean and Associate Dean of the School of Humanities challenged English Professor Julia Lupton to take college education beyond university borders. The result was Humanities Out There, what Lupton describes in a retrospective article called “Philadelphia Dreaming” as “an educational partnership between the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine, and a local, largely Latino school district in nearby Santa Ana”. At first, the endeavor was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funded Lupton to publish select lesson plans. Graduate students leading teams of undergrads would go into Santa Ana classrooms to encourage college-level discussion. It was the kind of experiment that could only be learned by doing, and years of practice have since refined the program. At first, the workshops were scattered across grade levels and experimented with form: one of the first ones performed a bilingual production of the Greek tragedy Antigone, a story of sacrifice, citizenship and challenging one’s community. They gradually evolved into the more focused high school workshops practiced today, which are based on subjects and skills on the list of California State Content Standards that must be taught at each grade level. The graduate student structures and introduces the lesson, which the undergraduates discuss in breakout groups through interactive exercises. This gives students the individual attention that is hard to attract in overcrowded schools. HOT tracks its impact through pre-tests and post-tests, assignments the students complete at the beginning and end of the course. Humanities Out There has always been able to demonstrate progress, although Lupton notes that many variables make it hard to pinpoint HOT as the direct cause. The more systematic approach made the program easier to evaluate, and it has existed in a similar incarnation for thirteen years. It currently serves roughly five hundred students. Elements of Antigone remain: the program still focuses on creating a community of thinking citizens.

“On the national level, December 7 is about war and revenge and the need to get involved. But on the community level, for Japanese-Americans, that’s not how it’s remembered.” Lani sets the scene for the lesson. Her pace is measured and emphatic; she speaks as if each sentence is storytelling. The attack on Pearl Harbor was mistakenly thought to be the result of espionage by Japanese-Americans in Hawaii and on the West Coast. As a result, President Roosevelt authorized military commanders to remove Japanese-Americans from their homes and relocate them to detainment centers.
“You have three to five families in a small bungalow in the middle of a desert, dealing with issues of patriotism and food rationing, and these same people were able to change where they were living into gardens,” she says.
One of these internment camps was Manzanar, located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California. Families lived in one square mile—approximately 36 neighborhood blocks— of the camp’s developed portion. At one point, 10,046 detainees lived in the complex. According to The American History Journal, many prisoners “pitched into the project of… realizing the potential of these grim landscapes” despite the “infuriating, disorienting and demoralizing” living conditions. Japanese-American writer Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston remembered “gardens [that] had sprung up everywhere, in the firebreaks, between the rows of barracks—rock gardens, vegetable gardens, cactus and flower gardens”. Manzanar is now a historical state landmark.
Lani wants to show the students history live, as she says, history as it’s being recorded. For Lani, this is a personal narrative: she grew up with family stories from December 7, 1941. Her great-aunt was a nurse on Oahu during the bombings; another aunt entered the Women’s Army Corp and was Hawaii’s poster girl to help enlist women. Lupton writes that “establishing shared narratives, along with ways of reading them, is one piece in the work of building citizens”, and today’s story is Pearl Harbor. On the TV behind Lani is a frozen image of the infamous bombing. It’s the first in a slide show set to a song she found on YouTube. The reggae/ska artists who call themselves Black Square are Hawaiians of mixed ethnicities. The song, whose chorus repeatedly yells the lyric “we’re sorry”, is both angry about and apologetic for the internment camps; it embodies the friction of a double identity that Lani wants the students to resonate with during this lesson. She warns the class about what they are about to see, racist propaganda built on visual Japanese stereotypes.
“These are racy images, typical of what came out in newspapers at the time. Our role as historians,” she explains, including the students, “is to look at the primary sources." A tutor turns off the fluorescent lights. Cell phones illuminate a few faces, but for the most part the class is attentive.
An internment camp pictured in Lani's worksheet on Pearl Harbor.
The undergraduate tutors face the students from a row of mismatched chairs, listening to Lani prepare the class. This is senior Nichole Cord’s first experience as a HOT tutor. It’s also her last year at UCI; she graduates this spring, and the future is uncomfortably close. Nichole joined HOT for the teaching experience, since she’s wavering between becoming a high school teacher and going for a doctorate in history. It took a couple workshops for the students to warm to her. Lessons often dealt with personal subjects, like the one that explored WWII-era Mexican segregation in Orange County schools. The students’ parents are all from Mexico; one girl, Diana, was born there.
“I think they had a very different image of me at first,” says Nichole. “They opened up to me after we talked about discrimination had happened to us or anyone we knew.” The lesson that day was about Mendez v. Westminster, a federal case which ruled that school segregation of Mexican-Americans violated state laws. Nichole took this opportunity to connect to them with her own stories.
“I’m half Mexican—I don’t look it, obviously—but my brother looks like he crossed the border yesterday.” Nichole laughs. “He looks like me, except he doesn’t have blonde hair.”
A few Christmases ago, Nichole and her brother Lee went home to Malibu. Her brother was hanging out with his friends, driving down the street and messing around with each other in the car. As far as Nichole knows, they weren’t breaking any laws.
“Then they got pulled over at gunpoint,” Nichole says. “They were given sobriety tests and came out clean, so they were let go. [My brother is] in the Navy and he has a pregnant wife.”
Nichole was home with her sister-in-law at the time. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?! Did you report them?’ And he was like, ‘nah, we’re a bunch of nonwhites driving down the street in a nice car’. It made sense to him. My brother and I had two different childhoods.”
From that lesson on, the students were less shy about participating. They shared their own short stories of discrimination, but they also asked about UCI’s medical program and the campus restaurants. Nichole responded with more questions about their high school experiences. When she read poems they had for HOT last quarter, she was struck by how similar their high school experiences were.
“All of their poems said ‘same old day… you wake up, go to school, come home, hang out with your friends, do your homework, repeat,’” Nichole says. The tutors try to break this monotony. .
“I made the effort to make a fun syllabus,” says Ody Suarez. “It’s in orange font, because of Orange High School”. She laughs at herself. The school’s spirit color is orange; one of the students compared the school to a prison, despite the colorful murals on the cinderblock walls outside. In Ody’s hometown of La Crescenta, the Verdugo Hills Golf Course was once the site of a internment camp.
An image from Lani's worksheet on Mendez v. Westminster.

When the song ends, the students scatter the desks into crooked circles around their tutors.
“Each shack was maybe half the size of this trailer,” a tutor says. The students glance around the room. “There were a couple families living in each one. Can you imagine?”
The tutor then asks about difference between a “resettlement community” and a prison. A soft-spoken girl named Ana, who’s holding a book called The Lost Boy, says something about hiding a bad thing with a good name. Eric repeats her answer for the rest of the group. They all nod, then move on to a question about the wartime economy.
Budget constraints have forced the program to adapt to a mercurial academic climate. Last year, the program moved from the Santa Ana Unified School District Orange County in an attempt to economize. They’ve downsized slowly from eight graduate student leaders to six and anticipate being down to as little as two in 2011. As bleak as that seems, it’s an improvement over disbanding completely, the fate predicted at the beginning of the quarter.
Traditionally, HOT has been funded by three sources: outside government grants, a grant from the Dean of the School of Humanities, and a grant from the Dean of the Graduate Division. This year, the program was forced to operate without a $60,000 grant from the Department of Education. The Dean of the School of Humanities funded two TAs for about $28,000 each, which the Dean of the Graduate Division matched. About $12,000 of each TA-ship goes to pay graduate fees and expenses, and the rest goes into the program itself. This gave HOT money for four graduate students this year; by limiting the program to two quarters, they were able to stretch to six. The program depends on such flexibility.
“To have a program like this go out would adversely affect the state twice,” history professor and current HOT director Lynn Mally said in a recent interview. “Once by damaging the students who I’ve seen come out of the program excited about teaching and [secondly], by the lack of their presence, not creating a gateway for students to want to come to our school, and maybe not even college.”
Humanities Out There targets students who are neither at the top of their classes nor the bottom, students who have the potential to attend college if pushed. In their own case of double identity, many of them are also categorized as ‘at-risk’ of teen pregnancy or dropping out.
Although the budget for next year is still uncertain, the Dean of Graduate Studies has offered $20,000 if the Dean of Humanities matches that amount. Providing HOT also finds money for miscellaneous operating expenses, this could fund two TAs for two quarters. Failing that, Mally plans to use the carry-over from this year to hire a graduate student to compile past lesson plans, an epilogue to Humanities Out There.
Tutor Tracey Baldemor’s group finished their discussion early, but they’re still leaning over their desks and debating about guilt by association.
“It was like when I went to my friend’s party and the cops showed up—we weren’t doing anything and we get lumped in with the ones who drink,” one says.
“Or like when people’s kids turn into serial killers,” says another. The group laughs uncertainly, and the student protests. “No, you know what I mean. Like how people always think how everyone related to that kid must’ve been bad too?”
Tracey jumps in. “Nature versus nurture. A little off-topic, but you’re onto something,” she says.
When the class finishes, Lani calls for volunteers. The boy who was debating with his friend stands up first.
“Hit me!” he says.
He reads the group assignment in an exaggerated radio voice, mimicking the newscast prelude to the Pearl Harbor song.
Then a bell rings, and the floor begins to shake. Students pack their bags, tutors collect the classwork, the teacher calls out announcements, and in less than two minutes the desks are back in their rigid rows.

Reporting Notes
-Classroom observation on January 20, including two workshops, breaks, and carpooling with tutors (3 hours).
-Interview with Lani (40 minutes), plus additional email correspondence.
-Interview with Ody Suarez (40 minutes)
-Interview with Nichole Cord (30 minutes)
-Email correspondence with Professors Lupton and Mally
-HOT lesson plans from Pearl Harbor and Mendez v. Westminster
-Previous interviews with Professor Mally, here and here, via UCIbudget.
-The Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 3, Discovering America: A
Special Issue (Dec., 1992), pp. 1021-1049. (Details on Japanese gardens in internment camps.)
-"Philadelphia Dreaming: Discovering Citizenship between the University and the Schools", by Julia Reinhard Lupton, as published in Antipode Vol. 40 No. 3, 2008.
-Beauty Behind the Barbed Wire (from Calisphere; background information)

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