“Listening for a Change”: Students Blog about Texas After Violence Project Oral Histories

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This week in “English 10-714: Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition: A Multidisciplinary Approach,” several students posted on our class blog about the experience of listening to a Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) oral history interview.  The TAVP collects oral history interviews from people across Texas who have been affected by the death penalty in our state.  The audiovisual interviews are archived at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative.  The motto of the TAVP–“Listening For A Change”–indicates the TAVP’s goal of influencing public discourse about capital punishment in Texas by providing a forum for individuals to share their stories.

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Students selected one oral history to listen to this week, and completed this Close Listening Worksheet as they listened. Using the results of these worksheets to compose blog posts, students reflected on the interviews, raised important questions, and made insightful observations about how the interviews connect with course readings.  Since the TAVP interviews represent a range of positions on the death penalty, one student remarked,

“Dismissing people based on their stance on capital punishment is not objective. Although anyone can agree or disagree with her it is important to listen to anyone and everyone’s story in a way that allows for judgement to take the backseat.”

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Screenshot from TAVP interview with Iliana Lopez, archived at the HRDI

Another student, who listened to an interview with Iliana López (see screenshot above), noted that this interview reinforces the importance of oral history at large.

“I found Illiana’s lived experiences accurately mapped out why restorative justice can be a powerful alternative to the responses of traditional law enforcement and courts… Her experience demonstrates the need to listen and share oral narratives; the stories of people we may not otherwise listen to, or who we may only hear through the filter of a criminal justice system that is more set on dehumanizing punishment rather than restorative conversation.”

Yet another student concluded, “It is difficult to learn to bear witness to injustice without either finding justice in it or turning yourself off. But witnessing is without question important.”

This is a significant point to which I would like to return over the course of our class discussions this semester.  Why is it important that we bear witness to injustice by engaging with oral histories?  What do we do with our emotions when listening to troubling narratives?  What are some productive ways in which we can process and respond to the stories of injustice we’re encountering?

*All student bloggers in the class, including those cited above, completed this Social Media Privacy Agreement at the beginning of the semester.*

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