May 15, 2020
By Gillian Kenah
Associate Professor of English and Asian and Asian American Studies Lisa Yun’s Community Engagement class made a creative change in response to the move to online learning. Inspired by the Your Story, Our Story project by New York City’s Tenement Museum, the class has spent this semester researching and documenting their family immigration stories with a focus on one family member and an object significant to their immigration story. The students also worked with Binghamton’s American Civic Association, helping to document and share their staff members’ immigration stories. The exhibit, which was intended to be held on campus this spring, can now be found as a collection of photos and videos on an Instagram channel they created and also on the Tenement Museum’s website.
Jacqueline Campbell, a senior majoring in chemistry, says the project facilitated unique connections between her fellow students and the staff at the American Civic Association.
“With this project, I was able to re-visit my family’s migration story that I have heard many times from my grandma,” Campbell said. “It was great to reconnect with my family in that way again. Further, I was able to connect with my classmates, my professor and members of the Binghamton community in a way that isn’t possible in a traditional class setting. By listening to others’ family histories, you are able to make intimate connections because you are diving deeper into a person and their values.”
Students in the class shared their stories of cultural heritage, researched their families' histories and interviewed New York City and upstate community members. According to Yun, this spring’s stories represent students and their families from Uzbekistan, China, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and more locally from Utica, Long Island, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and more.
Max Kurant, a freshman majoring in sociology, said the annual Community Engagement class continues ongoing work with the Tenement Museum’s Your Story, Our Story initiative, with new students contributing stories each year. The class started the semester by reading through previous stories to kickstart their brainstorming and writing processes.
“My classmates shared some really amazing stories ranging anywhere from castles to family hot chocolate recipes,” Kurant said. “We initially were preparing to put on an exhibit in the University Union, but due to the recent pandemic, we had to get creative and switch our exhibit to an online format through Instagram. I think the uniqueness of stories is still well preserved there, and we tried really hard to make them engaging and educational for Binghamton community members.”
The Community Engagement course has been offered annually for ten years, though it is the class’ first time exhibiting on Instagram. The spring 2020 class has finished its Instagram posts and plans on leaving the account for the next class so the exhibit will continue to grow.
Yun said the project represents diversity within the Binghamton University community and takes strides toward lessening the politicized stigma around immigration.
“We hear the statistics all the time of all the different places our students come from and all the different ethnicities, but this project humanizes those stories,” Yun said. “Especially as our world now seems more divisive than ever, it’s very important for people to understand each other and empathize with each other’s struggles. A college campus should expose people to views of the world they have never been able to witness before, and our class is helping to do this by sharing our own stories of where we come from and why our immigration stories are so important to us.”
The Community Engagement class recently released videos in response to the coronavirus outbreak, working with the Tenement Museum to describe what “comfort” means to the students.
“The museum has pushed forward in the educational use of social media, digital collections, interactive exhibits and the like,” Yun said. “Working with them is fruitful since this course is a combination of public humanities, digital production and community engagement. A week ago, the class also produced videos to kick off a COVID-19 series called "Objects of Comfort" on the museum’s Youtube channel. Each student thoughtfully shared an idea of what ‘comfort’ could be during uncertain times. Their work is featured in the museum's newsletter which goes out to 18,000 subscribers, so it's nice to see our students reach a wide audience.”