OSU students to study Siletz culture during spring break


CORVALLIS - A group of 26 Oregon State University students will spend most of their spring break in Newport interacting with the Siletz Native American population and related stakeholders to learn about cross-cultural issues faced by Native Americans in Oregon.

The students are part of a special OSU course called "Cross Cultural Issues in Native America: Learning Through Listening." They will spend March 23-27 interviewing Siletz tribal members, school officials, human health and service providers, casino and gaming officials, extension services personnel, developers, fishing managers and law enforcement officers.

A primary goal of the course is to help students gain a better understanding of the complex cross-cultural issues facing Native American populations in Oregon, both historically and contemporarily.

"This course takes a non-traditional approach to learning that blurs the boundaries between teacher, student, community and researcher," said Dwaine Plaza, an assistant professor of sociology at OSU and co-director of the course. "Wee invite stakeholders with vested interests in issues facing the Siletz in Newport to tell their stories to students, who then will process the information, reflect on it, and report back in an objective, unbiased way on different perspectives and social positions they have heard."

Plaza said this is the sixth year the university has offered a course like this and that each year students and stakeholders "have found it tremendously valuable." Last year, Plaza led a class that spent spring break in Burns talking with Paiute tribal leaders, local cattle ranchers and other officials to study issues of cultural identify and assimilation, economic and social conditions, education, and interactions with the community.

"The students take ownership of the class," Plaza said. "It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle. They have to work together to fit the pieces. They learn more than if they were simply to read a journal article or take notes at a traditional lecture."

In 2000, the course instructors including Plaza; Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies; and graduate student Geoffrey Habron, were honored as Oregon Innovators in Education by the Oregon Department of Education. For more information on the course, visit the web: http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/soc204/plazad/native2/index.htm.