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BIS 340 // Approaches to Cultural Research
DeSmet, Summer 2017

Earlier this summer LETI participated in a course taught at University of Washington's Bothell campus (BIS 340 // Approaches to Cultural Research), taught by Prof. Raissa DeSmet.

The course description and student evaluations follow.

Class Description

This course is an introduction to cultural theory and cultural research centered around the urgent issue of gentrification and displacement. Together we will ask: What is culture, why does it matter, and how can we study it? How can researching cultural practices reveal relations of power and privilege? And how does power structure our notions of space, place, identity, and belonging? We will examine different approaches to understanding the production of culture, as well as different methodologies for carrying out cultural research. Throughout the course, we will move between critically evaluating cultural research and carrying out mini-research assignments. As a hybrid community-based learning and research (CBLR) course, students will undertake site-based service work at the Latino Educational Training Institute (LETI), and will be asked to connect their site-based experiences to the wider themes and questions pursued in the course. Ultimately, students should leave this course with an understanding gentrification and displacement as complex processes with significant impacts for minoritized communities, a sense of the methodological possibilities within cultural studies, and a new appreciation for the ways that we produce and reproduce culture in our everyday lives.

Student Testimonials

“Not only did the service work allow us to learn more about these people in relation to the course content, but I also realized that our lives paralleled more than I thought. One of the conversations I had with someone was about the way we are perceived by others. Specifically, someone explained to me how whenever he visited Mexico, everyone saw him as American rather than Mexican, and in America people see him as Mexican rather than American. Since I am American but a minority, I feel like I am not viewed as American sometimes. Then, when I visit my family abroad, I feel that they view me as American and an outsider…. The service work at LETI allowed us to see the true impact that race and ethnicity have… [in our culture]." --RB

“I had a really positive feeling about this class this quarter as well as the partnership with LETI and I look forward to continuing to keep an eye on the work that LETI is doing in the Lynnwood area and potentially helping them out again if they need more help." --NB

“There were two significant takeaways from this [service] experience. The first is that, despite there being many cultural differences among peoples, as well as differences of “power”, having an open heart is key to truly engaging, understanding, and bridging the gap of communication or experience…. And this, I believe, is what will save our communities.” -—MC

“Visiting LETI and being a help on site has given me a clear understanding of community strength and how the neighborhood around this site is impacted from day to day. Providing service to this organization was a beneficial experience that gave me insight on gentrification. Meeting families and young members from the community and neighborhood was essential to understanding the effect the changes and transitions the area was going through, happening through the interactions between families and I directly…. I was able to make genuine…personal connections with…the community members." --SF

“My experience at LETI really opened my eyes to the LatinX community. To see how happy many of the community members were when they swung by to eat food or listen to music made me feel as if all the work we were putting in was really benefitting people. Bringing the community together and helping others get to know each other showed me just how important a well bonded community can be in bringing comfort, as well as helping one feel as if they are part of something bigger. To hear stories of travel and family from the LatinX people gave myself and my classmates a completely different perspective to consider.” -—SJ

“Learning about LETI and the work this organization is doing I think is great in many ways. They are helping those who need the help, but also sending a positive message to everyone as it is very important to help. My job at LETI was we met with Tom on first day and with classmates I would go on a trip in the Lynnwood neighborhood areas to invite everyone to the Friday barbeques that would take place for the couple of Fridays. This was my first time going door-to-door and canvassing to different areas of Lynnwood, and I would say I learned a lot from each areas…. [Through] each door we could see a new and different story and world." --MK

“I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful experience, this is my first community based learning course and I agree that learning in the classroom combined with learning outside the classroom is a beneficial method of not only comprehending the course material, but to practice, observe, and retain it." --ASL

“I am very thankful for this great opportunity and plan to stay involved in the…future." --BM

“This whole thing wasn’t about me, as a white person, coming in to help “save” the people living in this brown neighborhood. It was about getting out of my own little bubble and getting to see gentrification first-hand and hearing from the voices who are impacted by it. I’m also really thankful that I had the opportunity to cook authentic Mexican food, dance, immerse myself in a new culture, and come together with a great group of people. Overall, my time at LETI was incredibly enjoyable, rewarding, and enlightening." --GN

“Through this Community-Based Learning and Research program, I was taught an invaluable lesson to simply outreach, even when I don’t have the answers, if it means that I can help lead someone towards the correct direction. Overall, I was delighted to serve for an organization like LETI because I think it will make a difference in the community and enrich those in need." --JN

“It was very inspiring to work with Tom, Rosario and the class to reach out to the surrounding apartments and neighborhoods to raise awareness about what resources LETI has to offer them. Overall, I believe working with LETI was a very effective way of learning, getting to know and understand the people that have experienced or observed gentrification is an eye-opening experience, if not life changing. Real life experience is so much more effective compared to basing your knowledge and research solely on written material." --AP

“A key lesson from the class that made me think about what I can do in my personal life is to not just preach about change, but to be in the streets with people that are suffering from gentrification. Being part of LETI did allowed me to do exactly that." --QT

“This experience was so wonderful to be a part of and I loved being able to work with classmates on something that benefits a community in need." --BW

LETI is a community partner of the Bothell campus and was awarded a community service award by the University in 2017.

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