Discovering & Reconnecting to an Ancient Culture: An Interview with Bianet Castellanos

A person, Bianet Castellanos, stands in front of an altar. Bianet has dark hair, wears glasses and a red and black shawl.

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

Beginning in high school, Bianet Castellanos had an interest in the history and the culture of the indigenous people of Mexico. That particular history wasn’t easy to explore.

Growing up in San Joaquin Valley of California, all she learned about Latinos in history was the Mexican American War and the conquest of the Aztecs, Maya, and Incas. And that’s all she could find in the library.

As an undergrad she became interested in the art of the indigenous people of Mexico. But art history seemed to focus on European traditions and there too, she found very little written about Mexico and South America. Her instructors focused on the Renaissance. “That wasn’t what I was passionate about.”

Professors at Stanford convinced her to study anthropology, instead of art history. And that was the beginning of a journey eventually leading her to a position as an anthropologist and core faculty member in the American Studies department, focusing on indigenous communities in the Americas.

Castellanos began by spending months learning the Mayan language at Stanford, followed by spending her summers working with a Maya community in Yucatán. She smiles as she recalls discovering years later, there was a large community of Yucatán Mayans much closer to home, in San Francisco. She needn’t have traveled to Mexico to learn the language.

“This story is just one of the interesting ways in which we imagine indigenous people to be rooted in one particular place because that’s where they’re from. But we forget there are also diasporas.”

Castellanos still travels to Mexico and has spent over 20 years working with the same communities and developing relationships there. She also works with Maya immigrants in Los Angeles. Among other insights, studying both groups allows her to explore “how race is constructed across time and space.”

Racial systems in the United States are very different from those in Latin America and Mexico. The experience of being indigenous gets reconfigured in the U.S. as indigenous migrants settle into this space. “When they are defined as Mexican or Latino, their history as indigenous peoples is erased.” Castellanos has found that for “indigenous people in the U.S., race impacts their lives in subtle but significant ways.”

Race in the U.S. is based on blood quantum. You’re defined as indigenous mostly based on how much blood you have, your bloodline. Castellanos explains that in Mexico indigeneity is based on language. If you are 5 years or older and speak an indigenous language, then you are classified as indigenous.

Informally in Mexico, race is also determined by your phonotype, your dress, and where you live. “In Yucatán, how you dress can determine whether you are defined as indigenous or not.“ So in coming here, indigenous people are exposed to very different ideas about race and its impact on their lives.

“These ideas do not easily translate across cultures.” Castellanos had to find “basically new vocabularies – and I’m not talking about just words,” in order to tease out how race is understood in Mexico and in the United States.”

“Excavating that history is really important for Mayans migrants and their children to feel that they are valued.” Castellanos’ work helps them do that.

When asked to consider the future of her work, the political climate comes sharply to the front. It won’t just affect her work. Castellanos is also deeply concerned for the wellbeing of the communities she is working with, both in this country and in Mexico.

“If Mexico pulls out of NAFTA, that’s going to have repercussions for all Mexicans, especially for indigenous communities, because they … have the fewest resources available to them.”

“Most of the people I work with are in the service industry and tourism. If there is any kind of impact on tourism, it effects how they can feed their children. So you can see the repercussions of the United States government’s stand against Mexico, how that’s going to effect people in their daily lives.”

She’s also concerned about the Maya migrant community in Los Angeles due to the political climate against immigration. Some of them are documented, but some are undocumented. Changing policies will have a huge impact on these communities.

“You have a lot of families that are mixed status, where somebody has their green card or is a citizen but other family members do not.” Sometimes the kids are citizens and the parents are not.

Just like other immigrants throughout history, migrants come to the United States for a better life. Some are escaping violence due to sexual orientation, or other dangerous situations. It’s complicated, but Castellanos feels “the policies that are being proposed don’t take into consideration those issues at all. The translation is that they end up harming a lot of people and creating a lot of structural violence.”

“A lot of these folks are just living at the margins. What are the lasting, generational implications for families who are living in an already precarious status and then having to undergo these experiences and shifts in policies?”

“In the media people are talking about how these protestors are politically motivated. Yes, they are politically motivated but not because it’s a Democrat or a Republican, but because these policies are going to affect people’s lives. These are not just protests for protest’s sake. People are protesting who have never protested before because fundamental rights are at stake.”

“So this is the kind of work we need to be moving forward with – it’s important. There are some of us doing it, but we need more support for more of us to do it.”

[Header Image Credit: Amelie Hyams, 2017]

2017 IDEA Multicultural Research Award Recipients

The Institute on Diversity, Equity and Advocacy (IDEA) sponsors the Multicultural Research Award (MRA), which supports research that addresses issues related to the IDEA mission “to transform the University by enhancing the visibility and advancing the productivity of an interdisciplinary group of faculty and community scholars whose expertise in equity, diversity, and underrepresented populations will lead to innovative scholarship and teaching that addresses urgent social issues.”

Since it’s inception in 1996, the MRA has awarded over 1.5 million dollars to more than 165 UMN faculty from at least 45 different disciplines working in equity and diversity research.

Award recipients are required to present their work as part of Diversity through the Disciplines Symposia sponsored throughout the academic year. Awardees are also encouraged to showcase their research at the Gallery of Excellence, a showcase of equity and diversity research preceding the annual Equity and Diversity Breakfast.

Congratulations to the following recipients of the 2017 IDEA Multicultural Research Award:

Assistant Professor Gabriel Chan,  Public Affairs, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Understanding Gender-Responsiveness of Multilateral Climate Finance

Assistant Professor Joshua Collins, Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, College of Education and Human Development
Incorporating bystander intervention and ally development in the classroom and beyond: An integrative literature review

Associate Professor Molly Dingel
, Center for Learning Innovation, University of Minnesota, Rochester
Underrepresented students’ sense of belonging: The role of living learning communities

Assistant Professor Lake Dziengel, Social Work, College of Education and Human Sevices, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Resilience and the Role of Pets in LGB & Trans* Communities

Assistant Professor Ona Egbue, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Evaluating the Impact of Peer-Mentoring on Female and Minority Students’ Experiences in STEM Disciplines

Assistant Professor Insoon Han, Department of Education, College of Education & Human Sevices, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Fostering the Development of Social Justice Ally through Diversity Course Transformation: Pedagogical Approaches in the White-dominant Classroom  

Assistant Professor Rachel Hardeman, Division of Health Policy & Management, School of Public Health
#TinyBlackLivesMatter: An Exploration of the Association between Structural Racism and Inequitable Birth Outcomes 


Assistant Professor Jacob Mans, School of Architecture, College of Design
One House, Many Nations

Assistant Professor Lorena Munoz, Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, College of Liberal Arts
Poverty, Health and Race: Improving Healthy Food Practices Through Traditional Indigenous Growing Technologies

Assistant Professor Elliot Powell, American Studies, College of Liberal Arts
The Other Side of Things: Afro-South Asian Collaborative Sounds in Black Popular Music

Associate Professor Arun Saldanha, Geography, Environment, and Society, College of Liberal Arts
Prince from Minneapolis: The Geographies of Race and Genius

Associate Professor Catherine Solheim, Family Social Science,  College of Education and Human Development
Developing and Testing a Financial Coaching Program for Karen Refugees

Associate Professor Michael Stebleton, Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development, College of Education and Human Development

A Hunger Crisis: Examining Food Insecurity and its Impact on Undergraduate Students 

Assistant Professor Christopher Terry, School of Journalism,  College of Liberal Arts
Gender, Race and Eligible Entities: An Evaluation of the Empirical Evidence in the Federal Communications Commission’s Minority Ownership Policy Proposal

Associate Professor Bhaskar Upadhay, Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education and Human Development
Case Studies of Teachers’ Experiences Teaching about Race and Beyond

 

Seeing Beyond the Words: An Interview with Derek Jennings

A person, Derek Jennings, is smiling and looking into the camera.

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

According to Aristotle, “The soul never thinks without a picture.” So perhaps the image-based research Dr. Derek Jennings does could be defined as a way to ‘discover what the soul is thinking’…

Jennings is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Pharmaceutical Sciences on the Duluth Campus and the Outreach Director for Research for Indigenous Community Health (RICH). He has a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction (with an emphasis in Communications and Technology), a degree in Philosophical and Social Foundations of Education, with a minor in Film/Photography. He has also been a freelance photographer who has taught photography for ten years at a summer arts institute.

He has become very skilled in using the qualitative research methodology called PhotoVoice. PhotoVoice allows Jennings to combine his wide areas of knowledge and skill to develop health research projects with American Indian communities.

PhotoVoice enables people to tell their own stories, expressing their thoughts, ideas, culture, and values through photographic representations. It works like this: the community or the researcher picks a topic to explore. The participants make photographs that explore and represent the topic and tell their own story through images. The information is deep and rich, containing multiple layers of meaning.

The participants then talk about what they chose to photograph. It’s an important part of the narrative to understand why these images where created, what they mean to the participant. Jennings knows, “Meaning that is attached by the person who took the picture, is the most powerful.” So he listens carefully to their descriptions and analyzes the story they provide.

“I always talk about photographs as being just a file marker of abstract thoughts.” Jennings explains. “If you handed me your family’s photo album, I might not be able to know what’s going on with the pictures. You would have to sit there and tell me what you remember… ‘Oh, that was 2008, my grandmother’s birthday . . . We were celebrating my graduation on this day with my family’ – and you would tell me all these stories. But they really are just symbols that are file markers for your brain to attach meaning to.”

He tells about a group of American Indian women who have become known for running trail races and exercising. At first the group was 3-4 women who were wanting to get healthier. They started walking. Soon others joined. What began with a just few women walking grew into a group of 20–30, running marathons. And they got healthier. “A couple of them lost around 100 pounds.”

Jennings explains what drew him to this group for a PhotoVoice project. “I like to find those things that are working, attach research to them to figure out why and how they are working.” He then shares that information back to the community. The run-group is ‘a thing that’s working’.

The women have created a community of support for themselves: from the reservation, from family and from the run-group (friends). How? How were the women using social media to meet up to run? Most importantly, Jennings asked, “How do you make a community within a community, that will be supportive?”

He provided the women with cameras for about a week, to document their experiences and show what it means to them to run and to live healthier lives. “And so they photographed and told stories about their individual lives.”

“A lot of them had compelling stories about past relationships, their families, wanting to be good ancestors for their children.” He learned that when they run, the women talk about their ancestors. Some who have been adopted out are trying to learn about their culture and rebuild their roots to their ancestors. “They talk about trauma, they talk about things that have happened and how it has affected their lives. So it’s kind of a therapy situation also.”

“These women have done it [changed their lives] and I’m just trying to figure out how they did it and how it worked. With their encouragement, I was able to.”

Currently Jennings is working on a project called Food Medicine. “It’s a model about food and behavior, history and connection to culture.” He is drawn to this type of research because, “It’s image-based so there is so much information, not just focusing on one little area.”

Collaborative research is attractive to Jennings because it allows for multiple approaches from multiple perspectives. He prefers to explore issues this way. He works with American Indian communities, learning from collective wisdom. He also enjoys working collaboratively at RICH, as part of a larger team of researchers with differing expertise, “bringing many people around the same table, to solve health problems.”

Dr. Michelle Johnson-Jennings is Jennings’ wife and one of his collaborators at RICH. Both conduct research around tribal health issues, particularly obesity research, and both have said that combining their different approaches enhances the success of their projects.

Dr. Derek Jennings brings deep understanding and expertise of qualitative methods, especially image-based research. With a background in clinical psychology, Dr. Johnson-Jennings applies more quantitative approaches. Together they are able to examine a problem more fully than either approach can offer alone.

“This is the way of the future. I think this is how the academy will be ready to make changes in society – these more collaborative approaches to research.”

[Header Image Credit: Brett Groehler, University of Minnesota Duluth]

On The Trail From Hope to Healing: An Interview with Michelle Johnson-Jennings

A person, Dr. Michelle Johnson-Jennings, stands against a brick wall, with her arms crossed and looks into the camera.

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

Dr. Michelle Johnson-Jennings is a trained clinical psychologist, a health researcher and advocate for tribal communities and a member of the Choctaw Nation. Johnson-Jennings has been with the College of Pharmacy on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus since 2011 and has been director of the Research for Indigenous Community Health (RICH) Center since 2013.

An expert on cultural differences between westernized medicine and indigenous populations, Johnson-Jennings first became interested in the psychology and cultural differences around pain management, during her residency. “There are a lot of cultural barriers around what pain means to the patient, as opposed to the health care provider.”

She found patients would sometimes tell the doctor their pain level was ‘fine’ only to claim later that their pain was severe. Often they had been managing the pain when asked, so they didn’t mention it. But to the physician it would seem like they were lying, so they might not be offered appropriate pain medications.

There was clearly a need for her skills and understanding in this area. Many indigenous people suffer from addictions. Johnson-Jennings was aware that addictions are related to trauma. “Genetic research has shown that if you have a grandparent that was subjected to some kind of trauma, that future generations may experience higher levels of addiction and other illnesses.”

Obesity is one of these illnesses. “We have such a high rate of childhood obesity, as well as adult obesity. And our rates are rising, actually, while other races are stabilizing or lowering.” Chronic diseases among indigenous people have also increased. However a positive environment can lower the risks of chronic disease.

Along with mentor and friend, Dr. Karina Walters with the University of Washington, Johnson -Jennings spent about 3 years developing a pilot project with interventions to correct some of these health issues. They learned from the Chief of the Choctaw Nation, the health director, and other tribal leaders that the community is in a state of crisis due to high rates of diabetes, obesity and other health concerns.

“For the first time in years, especially among the Choctaw Nation, they are very concerned because they think parents will outlive their children.”

Johnson-Jennings and Walters worked with the Choctaw leaders who encouraged them to look to the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears was a very traumatic event for the Choctaw Nation, when they were removed from their homelands through a forced march, losing thousands of lives in the journey. “Each year the Choctaw Nation has health walks and remembers those ancestors who made the walk for us.”

The intervention program they designed combines therapy and interview sessions among tribal women and is centered on the walk. They’re asked to remember what their ancestors went through, focusing on the love the ancestors had for these future generations and their vision for health and wellness. This helps them to reframe the trauma of the walk, to see the sacrifices the ancestors made for them to be well.

Why focus on women? “We decided to focus on women because the Choctaw Nation is matrilineal. Traditionally the women control the household.” Johnson-Jennings and Walters began with women and are adding children and men as interest increases.

Women are also cultural leaders in the tribal community and their excitement about health has motivated others. Tribal leadership has begun taking the walks “in mini versions” to get back in touch with the ancestral vision of health and well-being.

The curriculum for the leaders is a little different than the women experience. Jennings explains it includes more historical information, especially about the Choctaw leaders at the time, what they said and what was recorded about them.

“The Choctaw moved with the hope that they could be free and remain Choctaw, as well as that future generations would be healthy.” Johnson-Jennings has heard reports that the leaders could see “some of the resilience that was there, is still present in the community.”

The success of this project has produced several spinoffs, not only among members of the Choctaw Nation, but other tribes as well. The United Houma Nation is related to the Choctaw Nation. They heard about the work being done with the Choctaw women and were interested in doing a similar intervention. They contacted Johnson-Jennings and Walters about a year ago.

The United Houma Nation is facing their own health crisis through the loss of a great many acres of land. The oil company has damaged the ecosystem, killing trees, making the land unusable for growing vegetables, and creating high rates of contamination that has increased health issues among the people.

When she walked with the Choctaw women, Johnson-Jennings had already created the intervention model she would use. However for the walk with the Houma Nation, she has been working with them to determine their framework for health, after concluding the walk. The leaders wanted to do something that focused not just on obesity and addiction but that also created excitement about overall health.

So Jennings and Walters chose a historical migration route and walked with the women of the Houma Nation. Along the way they talked about health and healthier eating. The women were encouraged to eat fresh fruit and vegetables and to eliminate soda, not just during the journey, but ongoing. They were also asked to continue meeting so they can support each other and help encourage their communities.

When facing these issues, tribal communities already know what works well. “Our ancestors were highly skilled scientists and they know so much about the natural environment . . . [even] at a genetic level where they would tell stories about how trauma can affect subsequent generations. But how do we access that information? How do we talk about that and reinvigorate our community to be working towards health?” Johnson-Jennings hopes her work can help by including a different perspective.

What actually happens on these walks? Johnson-Jennings describes how she accompanies the women, walking along with them and sharing the experience over a 10-day wilderness experience. “People are very tired. We’re camping out during the summer, so it’s very hot and [there are] lot’s of bugs.” In order to gather data she interviews participants before and after, but not during the walk.

Instead, during the walk they think about different themes. For the Houma Nation they focused on mindfulness, fulfilling their ancestor’s vision for their people and the tribe’s vision for future generations. Johnson-Jennings asks them to think about, “How do you want to be perceived as an ancestor?”

Community engaged research is typically slow. It can take a long time to achieve publication. The tribal community owns the data so the researcher must receive approval in order to submit anything for publication. This further slows the process and can add other challenges. Historically the tribal communities have had a lot of distrust about research due to ethical violations around research procedures.

Sensitive to these concerns, Johnson-Jennings takes the time to engage more fully in the tribal community. “It’s a lifestyle approach that you are constantly thinking not only about the research, but about the partnership and the relationship and maintaining that relationship.”

It’s encouraging that the process of doing this research has had immediate rewards for the community. Jennings describes that some of the women involved had never tried fresh fruits and vegetables before. “Because of their isolation and lack of access, that wasn’t part of their life.” Johnson-Jennings has seen them not only change their own habits but they’ve shared this in the community.

“The women are excited to tell their stories, and discussing what keeps them motivated to stay healthy, motivates them further.” Johnson-Jennings adds, “Tribal leadership is also taking notice. Health interventions are seen as exciting and thinking about policy changes could support that.”

What is Johnson-Jennings looking forward to next? “I would definitely like to look more into food addiction.” She hopes to learn if addiction to food is truly an addiction or an indicator of addictive tendencies, and how it’s related to trauma.

Her research around food addiction intersects with the work being done by UMN Professor Derek Jennings with the College of Pharmacy. Professor Derek Jennings is the Community Outreach Director for RICH, Johnson-Jennings’ husband, and her research collaborator.

“He is more of a qualitative researcher”, says Johnson-Jennings, “very skilled in doing Photo Voice visual stories, and working with communities.” She feels they work well together, he using a qualitative method approach while she designs health interventions and more quantitative surveys.

“It’s his job [with RICH] to be in the community and work on tribal relationships, discussing the research more broadly, which is part of his health education background. He is aware of what it’s like to do research from an indigenous perspective.”
(We will explore Professor Derek Jennings research more fully in an upcoming publication.)

Johnson-Jennings hopes her work will help break down a few barriers within the academy around community engaged research. “Research often centers on disease and what’s not working. But the lesson we learned is that we can focus on the positive and prevention and still obtain the grants we need.”

“I feel really honored to work with my tribal community, that they would partner with myself and our team conducting this research. I have a lot of respect for them and a shared hope that as we work together we will increase our health and be well.”

[Header Image Credit: Derek Jennings, Ph.D.]

 

Introducing the New IDEA Faculty Development Fellow: A (somewhat surprising) Interview with Sean Garrick

Sean Garrick Photo

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

There are three things you should know about Sean Garrick, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and incoming Faculty Development Fellow for the Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA). Some of them might surprise you.

  1. He once wanted to be a writer or a poet (and still kind of does).
  2. He wasn’t always good at math.
  3. He credits his academic success to a couple of wonderful mentors and a smart sister.

Garrick has an incredible understanding of fluid physics and computational fluid mechanics. And he truly enjoys his work. He recalls exactly the class he was in when he “fell in love with fluid physics.” It was in his first fluid physics class in his junior year of college. This, and the course he later took in Computational Fluid Mechanics, amazed Garrick. And he was hooked.

Given his love of engineering, it’s not surprising Garrick was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study the effects of fluid turbulence on atmospheric aerosols. He is looking forward to working with an elite group of scientists in Finland.

It might surprise you however to learn Garrick started out as an English major. He loves poetry and essays about the human condition. “My dream job was to be able to write those things.” He still seems a bit wistful when he talks about it.

But by his second year of college he came to believe his enjoyment of science and technology made engineering a better fit for his career pursuits. “I just really enjoyed it – looking at theory and the fact you can combine mathematics and programing and see these wonderful things.”

As a gifted engineer you might assume Garrick has always been good at math and science. “That’s not really true,” he says. He actually struggled with learning algebra in ninth grade. With obvious fondness he recounts how his older sister spent hours tutoring him everyday after school. She stuck with him until something just clicked.

Once he got it – math wasn’t a problem for Garrick again. In the dedication for his Ph.D. he said, “This is to my sister, who taught me all the math I ever needed to know.”

Garrick’s attributes his love of science and technology and his ultimate success as an academic to the influence of two mentors: Associate Professor Ching–Shi Liu at SUNY Buffalo and Professor Peyman Givi, currently with the University of Pittsburgh.

Between them, Garrick says these two taught him how to work harder than he thought was possible, and how to be a professional. Working with Givi as a graduate student “was like a finishing school,” he says. “It was a fantastic environment to be in.”

He also credits Liu with encouraging him to give back by being a role model and helping others. “He knew I was very passionate about working with other people. He led me down the road of making sure I did something for the betterment of society.” This goal still guides all of Garrick’s work.

As the incoming Faculty Development Fellow for IDEA, Garrick looks forward to finding ways to support faculty and help them advance. But he’s aware there are many challenges.

Relevance is essential. “How do you come up with the right mix of programs that will be useful for a significant number of our population?” Garrick starts by asking them. He is connecting with faculty from other parts of the University to learn about what challenges they’re facing and what they need.

He’s aware his experience is different from faculty in other disciplines and their challenges are also different. “I think we have to be careful in thinking every story is like our own.” Talking with colleagues provides insights to help shape programming.

A sense of community is also important. Within a single department or unit, the number of underrepresented faculty may be very small. But not when added up across campuses. Garrick feels if underrepresented faculty were more aware of their colleagues at the U, they could build a stronger community.

“You don’t need to be working on the same thing because these are our colleagues. These are our resources that we can all utilize to help improve our sense of community.”

Garrick points to a story from his own experience about how he came to collaborate on a proposal with Jigna Desai from Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies (GWSS).

“What would someone from GWSS and Mechanical Engineering have in common, subject-matter wise? Nothing.” Not true. He met Desai while working together on a committee and learned they share an interest in getting more underrepresented students into STEM.

“The more you bring people together, the more their commonalities become apparent and the more they can find solutions.”

Time is another challenge in bringing faculty members together. Faculty are very busy. So it’s difficult to find the right time to schedule things. “This sounds like a small thing but you have to make sure that a significant number of the folks who would like to be there, you’d like to be sure they can make it.”

In addition to helping faculty who are already here, Garrick wants to help our potential faculty: Ph.D. students and postdocs. He’s working on a plan to provide learning opportunities and insights on academia for these underrepresented students. “This informs the path they choose.”

He has more ideas he hopes will “contribute to deepening, furthering and broadening the pipeline . . . ensuring we have enough faculty from underrepresented groups at the U.”

This is just the beginning.

What excites Garrick about this new role as IDEA Faculty Development Fellow? “I don’t think you have an option but to be excited because the need is so great.”

“I really love this university. This is an outstanding university . . . [but] to a certain degree the absence of underrepresented students and faculty, to me it’s a gaping hole that needs to be filled. And I think I can help do that.”

[Header Image Credit: Amelie Hyams, 2016]