Research in Oral History: LGBTQ Activism in the NC Triangle Area

-written by Aaron Lovett, History and Communication Studies, Class of 2017

-editor Monica Richard

Before coming to UNC last fall, I thought research was something only done in the physical and life sciences. So when I heard about undergraduate research, I imagined chemistry and biology majors spending all day in a lab, manipulating a plethora of confusing technical instruments, wearing huge goggles and white lab coats, examining bacteria, and conducting experiments on mice.

Ian Palmquist Photo source: http://tiny.cc/brp8jx

Ian Palmquist
Source: tiny.cc/brp8jx

That was not at all where my interests were. But during my first semester at UNC, I took a research-exposure first-year seminar in history, and through that course realized that research could be done in any subject. After hearing about UNC’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), I decided I wanted to apply for the chance to conduct research of my own.

As a member of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community, I wanted to learn more about being queer in the Southeast United States, an environment historically hostile to queer people. Throughout American history, people who are now collectively identified as LGBTQ have been branded as deviant, ignored, and hated.

Alexis Gumbs Photo source: http://tiny.cc/lvp8jx

Alexis Gumbs
Source: tiny.cc/lvp8jx

Religious fundamentalism and social conservatism in the South have exacerbated this issue. Making matters worse, there is a slim amount of studies and literature on LGBTQ topics in general, let alone LGBTQ issues in the south.

However, through the Southern Oral History Program at Chapel Hill, I learned that oral history was a valuable method for learning about oppressed groups of people whose history is not thoroughly documented in official texts. So, I began an oral history project on LGBTQ activism in the Triangle area, to learn about queer history firsthand from people who have devoted their lives to shaping it. My second semester at UNC, I received the Pine Tree Fund SURF for research in LGBT Studies to fund my research.

For the project, I interviewed hardworking local activists such as Ian Palmquist, Alexis Gumbs, and Carlton Rutherford. Ian Palmquist, a UNC alumnus, is the former Executive Director of Equality NC, a statewide LGBTQ political action committee, and currently works at Equality Federation, a nationwide advocacy organization.

Pastor Carlton Rutherford Photo source: http://tiny.cc/6op8jx

PR Carlton Rutherford
Source: tiny.cc/6op8jx

As an experienced lobbyist and political activist, he offered valuable insight into how various progressive lobbying groups helped pass the NC School Violence Prevention Act in 2009, the first law in North Carolina history to include the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity,” and the first piece of legislation in the South to include the phrase “gender identity.” Carlton Rutherford has been a pastor for several years at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, which offers an all-inclusive space for religious members of the LGBTQ community. His experiences as a gay man of color and clergy member brings to light the many intersecting identities of LGBTQ people. Alexis Gumbs is a queer feminist activist whose work documents the histories of queer black elders; she received her PhD in English, Africana Studies and Women’s Studies from Duke University and is a widely published writer on LGBTQ topics. Younger than most of the activists I interviewed, she was able to not only add a queer woman of color’s perspective on LGBTQ activism, but also represent a newer generation of progressive activists.

My research experience taught me two critical things. First, that there are people from myriad and diverse ethnic, religious, and political groups, who share many of my past experiences. The ability to speak to and learn from them has been invaluable. Second, not all learning happens in the classroom – rather, some of the most valuable knowledge is gained through personal experience. There is so much you can learn by going out into the world and actually finding knowledge, archiving it, and reflecting upon it. And this process of retrieval, documentation, and analysis benefits not only the individual researcher, but the community they are a part of as well.
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Adding Undergraduate Research to your UNC Bucket List

written by Kirsten Consing B.S. Psychology/ Chemistry minor 2016

Kirsten regular pic

Kirsten Consing

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

It was the summer of 2013. I was selected to be a part of the Illinois Summer Neuroscience Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). My weeklong visit at UIUC was a great introduction to neuroscience research as well as to exploring all that the field had to offer. The program included presentations by neuroscience faculty, laboratory exercises, interactions with graduate and medical students pursuing careers in neuroscience, and tours of the campus and research facilities.One of the students that I had the pleasure of speaking with was a Carolina alumnus currently pursuing his MD/PhD at UIUC. The graduate student shared with me how his undergraduate research experience at UNC led to his work in Illinois. The experiences that I had in Illinois really inspired me to get involved in research, so I had to add conducting research to my Carolina bucket list.

Kirsten uncAfter I left Illinois, I spent the rest of my summer trying to connect with as many researchers on campus as I could before returning to UNC. First, I looked at many department websites for faculty members doing research and their research interests. After making a list of faculty members whose work I was interested in, I emailed them my information and stated why I was interested in their work. It did take time for some faculty to respond, but luckily I found a lab that would take me on as a volunteer.

Under the direction of Audrey Verde, a MD/PhD candidate at UNC, I volunteered with the Cognition & Addiction Biopsychology Laboratory (CABLAB) run by Dr. Charlotte Boettiger. I also had an opportunity to volunteer in the Neuro Image Research Analysis Laboratories (NIRAL) run by Dr. Martin Styner. While working with Audrey, I was exposed to different neuroimaging techniques such as structural magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging. As I learned new techniques, I was able to apply what I learned in my classes to the rationale behind each one. Volunteering in the CABLAB and NIRAL, I learned a great deal and truly grew as a student. Dr. Styner witnessed this growth and suggested that I apply for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) through the Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR). With Dr. Styner’s help, I composed a research proposal that was soon selected, and I am now spending summer 2014 as a SURF participant!

Kirsten Consing during Holi Moli 2014

Kirsten Consing during Holi Moli 2014

Currently, I am working on my very first independent research project at the NIRAL lab with Dr. Styner. My project is titled, “Analysis of Subcortical Structures in Infants with High Familial Risk for Autism.” I am focusing on the examination of subcortical structures in the brain across infants at 12 and 24 months with high familial risk for autism via 3D structural statistical shape analysis. I am proud of all the effort that I have put forth this summer and cannot wait to see the results of my project!

My advice, to any undergraduate student who is unsure of whether or not to do research at Carolina, is to really try it and stick with it for at least a semester. Ask other undergraduate students, especially upperclassmen, about their experiences and take advantage of the OUR website to really start off on the right foot. At the beginning, finding a research opportunity may seem daunting, but I find that pursuing research is something that one should definitely include on the Carolina bucket list, along with rushing Franklin Street, participating at Holi Moli, etc…divider

Irish Flute-ing

Kieran McCarthy Fell at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Kieran McCarthy Fell at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

written by Kieran McCarthy Fell class of 2013

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

As a flute performance major, I am passionate about participating in and hearing music from around the world. One of the most gratifying aspects of musical performances is creating a bridge of communication between people of different cultures. Though most of my training and studies have been in the classical settings of symphonies, wind ensembles, and orchestra pits, I am always eager to absorb musical influences from new sources, like my recent experience with the indigenous music of Ireland.

This past summer, I received funding for a research proposal that allowed me to visit a few regions in Ireland to hear a variety of performances in Irish settings such as local public houses and community centers.  There were also festivals to attend throughout the year, like the Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan at the University of Limerick, which encourages the preservation of heritage. By interacting with the musicians in these environments, I hoped to discover whether or not inflection, embellishment, and dramatic interpretation of traditional (trad) tunes vary from region to region, as dialects do, and what Irish flute technique and interpretation has in common with classical performance.

Through my training and practicing I learned that the most integral aspects of Irish trad music are: (1) understanding the specific time signature end feel of each tune type; the steady, fast 4-4 drive of the reel, the quick 6-8 lit of the jig, and the bouncy hornpipe, and (2) learning the unique ornamentations and including them in tunes spontaneously throughout a session. In traveling to several counties in Ireland, I learned that musical differences between regions have more to do with the types of tunes played than the embellishments used. Reels, Jigs, and hornpipes are frequently heard in most places, but in counties like Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, the most common types of tunes are slides and polkas.  Regarding ornamentations, the basic types are consistent between regions, yet vary from player to player as part of the musician’s individual style.  Because of the impromptu nature of trad music, the selected ornamentations that are added are different every time a tune is played.

Reel Tune

Jig Tune

Hornpipe Tune

One public session during the Fleadh Nua

One public session during the Fleadh Nua

Due to the variety of differences in playing techniques, my research did not result in a concrete way to link classical and traditional flute playing.  However, my time immersed in trad music and Irish culture made me fully aware of how powerful music is, despite its apparent simplicity.  The intuition and originality of each individual musician produced a vital, sparkling, almost tangible music characterized by a sense of joy and abandon in the quick tunes that contrasts with the achingly, compelling depth of the slow airs.

Irish music is not tied to the classical concert hall, but is deeply intertwined with daily life in close-knit communities.  Trad tunes and instrumental accompaniment for dancing, singing, and storytelling have been passed down through generations in homes, community centers, churches, public houses, and festivals.  It was through these public sessions that I truly allowed myself to become swept up in trad music.  The height of my learning of trad music came during the annual Fleadh Nua (“new festival”). The Fleadh Nua helped me understand that taking advantage of every chance to play for someone else, whether in a session or at a competition, is even more integral to learning trad than taking frequent lessons or practicing alone.  Soon I could say that I am a real trad player.

Another session during the Fleadh Nua

Another session during the Fleadh Nua

                    

Kieran McCarthy-Fell is currently a programming and productions intern at the Irish Arts Center, in New York City.

McCarthy-Fell received partial funding through a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) offered through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office for Undergraduate Research, the 2013 Witten Travel Award, the Class of 1938 Fellowship Endowment committee, and the Chapel Hill Music Department Mayo Award.

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Writing with a Lens

written by Caroline Kirby (Class of 2012: Honors in Comparative Literature and a major in French)

I am coming of age in a time when image and sound are replacing the written word in many forms of communication. Even significant life events are flashed on Instagram before they are summarized on Facebook, or, in an even more archaic form, detailed via e-mail. As a Comparative Literature major, research became the outlet for me to both rediscover the written word and translate it into today’s audio-visual language.

Liberte

Statue of Madame la République
location for one of the 17 October protests

Dr. Inger Brodey’s Comparative Literature 250 course challenged me to interpret literary works of art through disciplines such as music, art and film. Just as Romantic poets rewrote Classical epics in the context of their experiences, so contemporary filmmakers rewrite novels and short-stories through the lens of a camera. We studied how syntactical elements in prose, such as punctuation and sentence structure, can be communicated through audiovisual media.

The next semester, I discovered in Dr. Valerie Pruvost’s French 310 course a topic ahead of its time, captured not through text but through image and sound. According to Benjamin Stora’s La gangrene et l’oubli (La Découverte, 2005), trans. Gangrene and Oblivion, the French-Algerian War (1954-1962) remains largely undocumented in contemporary French history. As I discovered more about this “guerre sans nom” (war without a name), I came to understand these events were not recorded on pages but on the streets of Paris and Algiers, captured only by rare photographs (see Elie Kagan’s) and oral histories (Leila Sebbar’s La Seine Était Rouge (Thierry Magnier, 2003), trans. The Seine Was Red).

A Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship provided me with the resources to continue the work of historians Jean-Luc Einaudi and Benjamin Stora in filling in the blanks of history books surrounding the French-Algerian War. I took particular interest in the traumatic events of October 17, 1961 in Paris, France. On that night, thousands of anti-war protestors left their homes to march peacefully through the streets, yet hundreds were never seen again. On the eve of its 50th anniversary, historians, writers and activists were calling the French government to acknowledge the Paris Massacre, and I was among them.

RF

Insignia of the French Republic
outside a prison where some of the protesters were detained

Informed by the work of Einaudi and Stora, I traveled to sites in Paris where violence had occurred on the night of October 17, 1961. I was largely unimpressed. These train stations, statues and cafés seemed shrouded in the prosaic din of vehicles and passer-bys, none of whom slowed to take notice. I yearned to honor those whose lives were lost there, communicating their stories in the audio-visual language of my time. I returned to Chapel Hill with hundreds of photographs and hours of footage, and, with FinalCutPro and my narrative voice, began to write the story of the Paris Massacre.

The following academic year, I had the opportunity to present my work at Virginia Tech University’s ACC Meeting of the Minds Conference and at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research Symposium.  I was thrilled to continue my discovery of unwritten francophone histories through a Fulbright Research Grant to Geneva, Switzerland following graduation. Image and sound have become my way of writing, and the lens has become my pen. I am grateful for those professors who taught me the languages of literature, film, French and Arabic, and for those mentors who gave me the confidence to write in my own.

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Capturing the Past in the Present

written by Olivia Dorsey

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Olivia Dorsey B.S. Information Science Afri Amer &Diaspora Stds Minor  from Clayton,NC

Olivia Dorsey
B.S. Information Science
Afri Amer & Diaspora Stds Minor
from Clayton, NC

Upon entering into Carolina, participating in undergraduate research had never crossed my mind. I just wanted to hone in on my technical abilities to produce websites and graphic designs, which was my passion. After taking an African, African American, and Diaspora Studies course my sophomore year, I acquired an interest in African American Studies. After hearing about the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) from a friend who was a recipient himself, I was convinced to apply.  I decided that I would use my SURF experience to challenge myself; I would combine my two passions for history and technology. The skills in web development, which I had developed in my years at Carolina, would allow me to create a digital collection, preserving damaged historical photographs from families in the area.

To conduct my project, I traveled to Franklin, North Carolina where I would be able to digitize the family photographs of those who may or may not realize the historical or sentimental value. Many people had their photo albums tucked away, and had even forgotten about them. Yet when asked to see the photos, they were eager to relive those memories and take me along for the journey.  By the end of the project, I created FranklinMemories.com, a website, which holds about 200 photographs and several interviews capturing Franklin’s past.

A photograph of unknown individuals, take from the album of Carrie Stewart Franklin, NC

A photograph of unknown individuals, take from the album of Carrie Stewart
Franklin, NC

In Franklin I created bonds with people there that I will continue to cherish. Next semester, I will be attending the School of Information and Library Science, at Carolina, in pursuit of a Masters of Information Science to study the Digital Humanities. Because of my SURF project, I want to pursue a career as a developer of Digital Humanities projects.  I am not only focusing on web design, but also 3D modeling, motion graphics, and other avenues that I feel will only enhance historical projects. I really hope that by creating these projects, I can continue to make local history accessible to those within the community who may not know about their history or who may not have the means to access it.

I encourage anyone who is planning to pursue a research project, whether funded through SURF or not, to be persistent. If your project is something that you are passionate about, you will be able to find a way to make it happen. But I also think that in order to make your project successful, you must be willing to challenge yourself. divider

‘An active creation’: Oral history and race and equality in Chapel Hill’s public schools

-Written by Grace Tatter

[Brown vs. Board of Education] was the single most important moment in the civil rights movement, its most enforceable intervention, and its most powerful statement. But Brown was not all that we could have had or all that was due the South. (Glenda Gilmore, Defying Dixie)]

UNC alumna and award-winning historian Glenda Gilmore implies in Defying Dixie, that the success of Brown and the subsequent school desegregation in the ‘50s and ‘60s is often overstated

Howard Lee campaign brochure, 1969. North Carolina Collection Biographical Clippings. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Howard Lee campaign brochure, 1969. North Carolina Collection Biographical Clippings. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The dominant narrative suggests that equality was achieved when black and white students began to attend the same schools. In fact, there is a litany of other factors required to ensure equality, not least of which is communication between communities that, even today, are separated by the legacy of Jim Crow.

The opening of the Howard and Lillian Lee Charter School offers an interesting jumping off point into the discussion of racial equality, and the history of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS). The new school, founded by the daughter of Chapel Hill’s first black mayor, is marketing itself toward the African-American community, with the stated intent of reducing the racial achievement gap.[1] Some fear it sends the message that desegregation did not work, and that Chapel Hill should give “separate but equal” another shot.

In an oral history conducted in 2001 by the Southern Oral History Project, Fran Jackson, who helped desegregated Chapel Hill’s schools as a middle school student, described how miserable her experience as a black student at Chapel Hill High School was, and how little she saw change for her daughters, who attended school in Chapel Hill.[2] “I don’t think anybody was courageous enough to step out and say that we need to do something to assure that these students feel more accepted and more comfortable in class,” Jackson said of her experience in the 1960s.  “They just said, ‘Wow… maybe it’ll get better with time.’ And to be honest with you I don’t think that it has gotten better with time, because if it had then we would not see this wide gap in terms of academic performance,” Jackson said. Jackson’s experience demonstrates the importance of examining the tensions in CHCCS.

I decided to tackle this subject by conducting my own oral histories. As an academic discipline, oral history is often less about cold, hard facts, and more about the sense and perception of a period. Oral history is particularly valuable for expanding historical research to include “ordinary voices” or the “inarticulate;” it allows historians to draw on the experiences of people who will not necessarily be considered “important” enough to have their papers archived in Wilson Library or be written about in newspapers, but still have valuable insights on what it felt like to live in a certain time period.

Recently I interviewed David Kiel, now leadership coordinator at the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence, who worked with Upward Bound, a federally-funded summer enrichment program on UNC’s campus that aimed to create the equal educational opportunities promised by Brown v. Board of Education. Kiel described how the black students he worked with needed that space to talk about desegregation, which for some was a discouraging experience. Of desegregation, Kiel said, “…it did represent a victory against the Jim Crow regime, yet it certainly did not fulfill the best hopes and wishes of their parents and civil rights activists.”  My interview with Kiel illustrates the complexity of the community and the issues being studied.

Oral histories add nuance and understanding to research on issues that are missing from official documents. I have spent many hours in Wilson Library looking at microfilms and sorting through stacks of school board minutes. However, the face-to-face interactions I’ve participated in through oral history have added a new dimension to my research.


[1] Ferral, Katelyn. “Lee Charter School hits delay.” Chapel Hill News, June 12, 2012. http://www.chapelhillnews.com/2012/06/12/71726/lee-charter-school-hits-delay.html (accessed February 21, 2013).

[2] Interview with Fran Jackson by Christa Broadnax, 23 March 2001, K-0208, in the Southern OralHistory Program Collection #4007, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

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2013 SURF: Revisiting Room G272

-Written by Ellen Marie Murray 

Murray figure 3There’s a unique sort of feeling sitting in room G272 again.  I sat in this same room three years ago as a junior in high school, but being back makes it feel like yesterday.  It was in math classrooms like this that my interest in the relationship between female students and mathematics began.  My Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) topic focuses on conducting observations and research in high schools in both my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and those in China.  I thought that there was nowhere better place to start than my own alma mater, and thus I am back in room G272 one more time.

During my first week of observations I sit unobtrusively in the back of the classroom.  I create sketches of the classroom layout and analyze the gender distribution.  I quietly write tally marks to keep track of participation, questions asked by students, and how often the teacher cold calls on each gender.  Also, I give each class a math survey in order to better gauge their opinions on mathematics and the relationship the teacher, relevance, attitude and future plans have on their feelings towards the course.

After closely going through my surveys from the first week, I eagerly enter back into the classroom to conduct group and individual interviews with teachers and students.  In the small groups, the students open up once they realize that I am just a few years their senior.  I make small talk with them before carefully asking questions about their perceptions of math, feelings about their own personal abilities, the influence their teacher has on the class, and their future plans for careers.

At this particular high school, the teachers tell me that they notice no distinct differences between female and male performance in mathematics, but in my survey the female students indicate that only 35% of them enjoy math while over 60% of males do.  In speaking with the females, I am able to gather that they care much more about the teacher than their male counterparts.  Teachers who are not as welcoming or warm are discouraging to many female mathematics students. However, the female students do express a greater interest in learning about the relevance their mathematics courses may play in future endeavors.  One student tells me that she loves science and wants to be a biomedical

Murray figure 2 clipart engineer, but does not understand how math will be involved in her career.  Another girl tells me that she wants to own her own hair salon; she does not mention any understanding of the necessary math skills involved with budgeting and running one’s own business.

I remember what is was like to be in the seats of these students, and this understanding proved to be a great way for me to connect with the students and speak with them in greater detail about what can spark more interest in mathematics.

G272 is just one classroom that I worked in before heading off to conduct the comparative part of my study in China and it proved to be a great launching pad for my research.

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2013 SURF: Searching for Originality

Edelman-rawls

John Rawls
Photo by Jane Reed

-Written by Jonathan Edelman, UNC ’14 Philosophy
 
 

My absolute least favorite school project in middle school was the science fair. No matter what type of project I did, or whom I worked with, I could never find any inspiration to put together a project I was proud of.  It wasn’t that I was bad at science—chemistry and physics were always two of my best subjects—or that I had some deep-seated hatred of the scientific method. I just knew that as a 12- or 13-year old, I wasn’t going to come up with an idea for an experiment that was original. I would take days and days to think of an experiment I could do, and still once I started my review of literature, I found that someone had already done the exact same experiment I was about to do. After that point, I could never get excited about my project because I knew in the back of my mind that I wasn’t adding any revolutionary knowledge.

For better or worse, my research for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) has reminded me a lot of my ill-fated middle school science fairs. As a humanities researcher, I’ve had to create my own project proposal and work with a professor to create a proposal that was both new and appropriate for an undergraduate, which I promise sounds a lot more intimidating once you’ve been staring at the blank page that was supposed to be your research proposal for an hour. As a philosophy major who forays quite frequently into politics, I eventually chose to look at the 20th-century political philosopher John Rawls, to investigate how the liberal egalitarian theory espoused in one of his main books could be applied to evaluate the Affordable Care Act. I was happy with the originality of my research question, but sure enough, when I started the first book my advisor gave me to read the author talked of having created a matrix of sorts that he used to evaluate health care legislation based on John Rawls’ theory—in other words, exactly what my research was proposing to do. More than a bit disillusioned, I turned to my advisor, who reminded me that the “newness” of my research question came not from applying Rawls’ theory to health care but from applying it to the comparatively new Affordable Care Act—the question was original because no professors had time to ask it yet.

For me, the SURF has been a bit of an exercise in humility. Going through my philosophy coursework and getting rewarded for analyzing arguments well, it’s been easy to envision myself a bona fide philosopher. Analyzing arguments is easy. Yet philosophy isn’t just about that, it’s about asking questions that no one has asked before and finding answers to those questions. Those things are hard, but my research has reminded me that those things are why I got interested in philosophy in the first place.

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2013 SURF: Welcome to Science

-Written by Nathan Ahlgrim

Research as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) scholar has kept me in the same lab I have worked in for three years, but has thrown me into an entirely new role.

Nathan Ahlgrim Biology/Psychology Class of 2014

Nathan Ahlgrim
Biology/Psychology
Class of 2014

I now attend every lab meeting, am left to construct my own experiments, and am expected to work independently.  Here in Dr. Glenn Matsushima’s lab, our efforts are focused on demyelination disorders of the central nervous system (CNS) like multiple sclerosis, and we attack the questions from many angles.  All that means is I have a lot of training to do.

I have been trained to be able to work independently through all aspect of data collection.  Since we work with a mouse model, I need treat and care for the mice, collect, prepare and label the brain tissue, and finally analyze the material.  I am indebted to Drs. Taylor and Puranam for training me in these countless procedures, and the process of gaining these new skills has highlighted one of the greatest characteristics of research science.  No one in our lab knows every procedure, and I myself have already instructed a post-doctoral scholar in a procedure I learned three weeks earlier.  In such a specialized field, knowledge and experience has to constantly be shared in order to be expanded.

Ahlgrim Figure 1

Staining of cells to show oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs)

Ahlgrim Figure 2

Staining of cells to show microglia

My efforts further understand demyelination disorders concern a gene called Pyk2 and its role in the glial cells of the CNS.  Myelin is the insulating fatty tissue around our neurons in the brain which allow for quick and effective signal transduction.  Without it, nerve impulses slow or fail.  Our experimental mouse model is a Pyk2 knockout, which means it does not have that gene, so we can study how those mice react to demyelination as compared to normal mice.  The Pyk2 protein acts in rearranging the cytoskeleton in a cell.  If the cytoskeleton rearranges properly, the cell can move appropriately.  Our hypothesis is that without this gene, key glial cells like microglia and oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) will not be able to migrate to damaged areas of the brain, worsening the effects of the disease.   A major tool in this will be immunohistochemistry, which selectively labels cells that express a specific protein.  As an example, the pictures show a staining of microglia (right) and OPCs (left).  Doing so over a time course of the disease allows us to understand the movement of different cell types and how their presence or absence affects the end result of demyelination.  This information will tell us more about the ways in which the CNS helps and hampers itself in demyelination disorders.

I have only just begun my work as a SURF scholar, and I am all but certain my project will not be complete with the closing of the summer.  However, the preliminary data and early collection stages are promising, and I have my mentors’ guidance to help me through this long and complex process.  Yes, my project requires many late nights and weekend hours, but as my supervisors have told me, ‘welcome to science.’

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Putting it all in focus: Summer Research Spotlight on Layla Quran

Written by Layla Quran

You know Summer 2012 has officially begun when you the street markets in Palestine begin selling the apricots, when the days become hot and the nights cool and breezy, and most of all when the festivals and concerts fill the air with the music and dance of a people under occupation.

Palestinian Artwork

My name is Layla Quran and I am a rising sophomore at the beautiful University of North Carolina, with a major in Global Studies. I am in Palestine this summer researching the role(s) and impact of the arts in the lives and perceptions of Palestinians. My research will focus on answering the question, “How has music exposure/experience affected Palestinians living in the West Bank, and what role does it play in their lives?”

The goal of my research is to discover the current status of music exposure in the West Bank, and its impact on Palestinians in order to:

1)         Understand how music has created a sense of cultural and national identity for the Palestinians

2)         Analyze the  role music has played in creating an outlet for emotional or political thought under occupation

I have been interviewing directors of arts organizations in the West bank, including organizations based in Jenin, Bethlehem, and Ramallah. I have also had the opportunity to interview dancers, artists, actors, and musicians (and even a comedian), and will be conducting even more interviews in the months to come as the festivals and concerts really start blossoming in the occupied territory. I hope to also create a film based on my interviews and the footage I capture from camps, concerts, and festivals.

The most challenging aspect is ensuring I get the interviews with the artists after the concerts and festivals, and of course, the lack of movement I can make throughout the country because of my Palestinian passport. Although I was born in Jerusalem, I cannot enter the city without special permission because of my passport(yes, I am a US citizen as well, but because I have a Palestinian passport, it overrides the US passport in the eyes of the Israeli government).

I have noticed several things already.

First, Ramallah by far is the cultural center of the West bank. This is great because of the large population of the city and the opportunity its residents have to experience the arts, however for the other cities and villages of the West bank, there is little to no arts exposure. For example, when I visited Jericho, one of the city officials at the town hall told me, “Arts? In Jericho we don’t have arts, we herd sheep”.

Second, the occupation is not the biggest problem for artists here, or at least the artists I have interviewed so far. Many say huge problems include funding (as the Palestinian government gives little to no money to arts and culture), and society. Some Palestinians do not see art as a form of political resistance, but rather as a hobby or luxury for the elite.

Third, to many artists, what they do is an escape from a harsh reality. For example, a young musician at Al-Kamandjati organization in Ramallah told me she feels alive when she is playing her instrument, and a dancer from El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe told me he considers dance a window into the rest of the world.

I spoke to renowned Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour the other day at the International Academy of Art in Al-Bireh, Palestine. I asked him why he is a political artist, with many of his painting’s relating to the life of Palestinians under occupation. He paused for a second before telling me “I did not choose to be a political artist. I paint what I see around me, and it is just what I have always done.”

To some statements like these may sound cliché, but to Palestinians living under illegal military occupation, with houses demolished every day and checkpoints blocking passage between cities and walls taller and higher than the Berlin Wall ever was, it is becoming clearer to me every day that Palestinians artists need their work.