Linking Communities with Universities: Challenging the Town-Gown Separation in an Era of Higher Education Crisis

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:40 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)
Paul Ortiz, University of Florida
The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program engages in research collaborations with multiple communities including: migrant farm workers in Florida; undocumented immigrants in the southeast; civil rights movement veterans in the Mississippi Delta; the Poarch Creek Band if Indians in Alabama, WWII veterans, Bataan Death March survivors, members of the Gainesville Veterans’ For Peace, descendants of Black Seminoles in Mexico and Texas as well as Italian Nobel Laureate Dario Fo, who is currently working on a film on the 2nd Seminole War in Florida.

My presentation will center on the promises and perils of engaging university scholars (undergraduates, graduate students, faculty & staff, etc.) with broader communities in a time when universities are suffering from major budgetary cuts and the loss of support from state legislatures. I will focus on four collaborations in particular: SPOHP’s ongoing work with members of the Sunflower (Mississippi) Civil Rights Organization, Student Action with Farmworkers (Durham, North Carolina), undocumented immigrants, and military veterans—particularly Vietnam War veterans.

My questions include: what do students learn and gain from doing oral history field work with these communities and organizations? Conversely, what do traditionally underserved communities gain (or lose) from collaborating with university-based oral history and public history programs? In a broader sense, can these collaborations generate new kinds of knowledge about the human condition—as well as critical thinking skills—that teach us how to address the crisis of higher education in American society?