OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Special 5-day OSU course to explore migrant experience

03/03/1998

CORVALLIS - A grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will fund a special five-day course offered through Oregon State University in March that will explore the cultural impact of migrant workers in a small Willamette Valley Community.

Offered by OSU's departments of Ethnic Studies and Sociology, the course will run March 22-26, during the university's spring break, and held on-site in the town of Independence, southwest of Salem.

Students enrolled in the course will interview migrant families, their employers, social workers, teachers, and other members of the community to talk about the migrant experience, according to Dwaine Plaza, an assistant professor of sociology, who helped develop the course.

"Within that broad framework, the students can basically steer the interviews - and the course - in any direction that interests them," Plaza said. "That is the founding principal of action research."

The course is designed to get students off campus, to meet people involved in social issues and - most importantly - to listen to a variety of different sources, said Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, who chairs the OSU Department of Ethnic Studies.

"One of our goals is to educate students in non-traditional ways," she said. "We'd like students to get out of the classroom and into the real world to meet the stakeholders on an issue. In this course, we have chosen the migrant experience. This is not one monolithic group interacting with a dominant culture, but a number of different people, with different needs, from different backgrounds.

"There are cultural differences at the core of interactions between groups that may be evident in the workplace, schools, other social interactions, and generational interactions," she added.

The course is called "Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Agricultural Labor: Learning Through Listening." Its design is partially modeled after a course developed last year by Geoff Habron, a doctoral student in fisheries and wildlife, who took a group of OSU students to the Umatilla watershed.

"The idea is not to teach via a lecture situation, but to introduce students to stakeholders and get them to listen," Habron said. "As part of the course, we will encourage them to filter out information they previously may have heard on issues and focus only on what was said by those people they interviewed."

On the last day of the course, the students will make a presentation on their findings to the stakeholders, Habron said, who will see if the students "got it."

For more information on the course, contact the Department of Ethnic Studies at 541-737-0709.