LSU Anthropology Students Study Community Resiliency in Lower Ninth Ward
BATON ROUGE – For several years, as part of an urban ethnography service-learning project, LSU anthropology students have gained perspective on community resiliency while working with community members in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. During the class, taught by associate professor Joyce Jackson, students learn about New Orleans’ cultural contributions to society and reflect on how race and other demographics informed rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina.
The students work alongside community partners on service projects that allow students to learn the techniques and methodologies of ethnographic research while documenting the lives of people who reside in the neighborhood.
Jackson’s primary community partner is Desire Street Ministries, or DSM, and she has partnered with the New Orleans branch of DSM since the spring of 2010. DSM is a faith-based organization whose mission is “to love our neighbor by revitalizing impoverished neighborhoods through spiritual and community development.”
DSM started in New Orleans in 2004 and has since expanded its mission to several cities in the southeastern U.S. Jackson’s class has worked one-on-one with resident youth and DSM staff on projects that involve photojournalism, staff ethnographies, tutoring and college preparation. By combining ethnographic field research and community engagement, and through the time spent with DSM and with members of the community, LSU students investigate the issues that face post-Katrina New Orleans.
Jackson conceived of the service-learning project in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina. She had been conducting ethnographic research in the Lower Ninth Ward for three years prior to Katrina, engaging with the Fazendeville community, who had been displaced by the federal government in 1964 because their houses were located on the land where the Battle of New Orleans was fought in 1815. Once Katrina struck, they were displaced yet again.
“I was in the process of bringing closure to the project when Katrina happened, but because of my close collaborative involvement with the community, I had to continue because I was truly concerned about their well-being,” Jackson said. “I began to figure out the best way to utilize my research skills to help in the rebuilding and healing process, so I decided to translate some of this to the syllabus and involve my students.”
Jackson’s students first worked with area high school students to recapture visual records lost during Hurricane Katrina. LSU students went over photography tips and provided cameras, and the high school students set out to photograph various people, places and things that were important to them. Each student was able to compile their photos into an album that could serve as a permanent record of the community’s life and history.
LSU students also interviewed Marcia Peterson, director of DSM, and her staff about their experiences during Hurricane Katrina.
“Everybody that worked at the center had gone through Hurricane Katrina evacuation, displacement, migration and return,” said Peterson.
The staff provided first-hand stories that supplemented the students’ in-class learning and research.
At Peterson’s request, LSU students provided after school tutoring and assisted DSM’s high school juniors and seniors in preparing for college admission through the organization’s Elevate program. LSU students worked one-on-one with the high school students as they navigated the college admission process, including conducting on-line searches for colleges and academic programs, identifying sources of funding, and assisting with essay writing. All 30 seniors who applied to college through this program were accepted into college and were offered academic or athletic scholarships.
“This learning experience … changed everything for me – how I see the world and the type of academic I want to become,” said Amy Potter, a former student of Jackson’s and an instructor in LSU’s department of geography and anthropology.
After a successful two-year partnership with DSM in New Orleans, Jackson’s class is currently working with I Hope Inc., formerly known as Desire Street Ministries of Baton Rouge. I Hope is a community-based organization that works with at-risk youth in Baton Rouge.
This past spring, the partnership with I Hope, Inc. was to conduct interviews with participants – parents, students, and teachers – to produce a short film trailer that will be used to accompany grant proposals and promotional materials for possible sponsorships. Additionally, the students developed marketing materials to promote the program.
Jackson’s class has partnered with many different nonprofits located in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, including the House of Dance and Feathers Museum, Martin Luther King Charter School, the Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association and the Lower Ninth Ward Clinic.
Service-learning classes like Jackson’s are supported through the Center for Community Engagement, Learning and Leadership, or CCELL. For more information about CCELL, visit www.lsu.edu/ccell.