Student Action with Farmworkers Receives Service-Learning Award for Contributions to CDS Undergraduate Classes

Undergraduates in the spring 2013 course Farmworkers in North Carolina discuss a mural created by youth in SAF's Levante Leadership Institute Youth Program. Photograph by Christopher Sims.

Undergraduates in the spring 2013 course Farmworkers in North Carolina discuss a mural created by youth in SAF’s Levante Leadership Institute Youth Program. Photograph by Christopher Sims.

Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) was honored this spring by Duke University’s Service-Learning Program with a Betsy Alden Outstanding Service-Learning Award, in recognition of SAF’s long commitment to supporting undergraduate courses at the Center for Documentary Studies. SAF was nominated for the Alden Award by Charlie Thompson, director of undergraduate education at CDS, and Christopher Sims, an instructor at CDS, both of whom have worked with SAF in their courses over the past decade.

Most recently, during the spring 2013 semester, SAF collaborated with undergraduates in the course Farmworkers in North Carolina: Roots of Poverty, Roots of Change. SAF involved the students in the media strategy and planning for National Farmworker Awareness week; organized a trip to Newton Grove, North Carolina, for students to meet with migrant high school students and their families; and helped to coordinate guest speakers around the topics of pesticide education, campesino theater, and labor organizing. “Without SAF’s deeply rooted and carefully cultivated relationships with farmworker communities and advocates, it would simply have been impossible to offer such a rich and meaningful opportunity to Duke students,” wrote Charlie Thompson and Christopher Sims in their nomination letter.

At the heart of Duke’s Service-Learning program lie questions about who really benefits from service, especially when it is short-term; how to serve in conversation and collaboration; and how to foster reciprocity in service relationships. The Farmworkers in North Carolina course involves learning about, from, and with farmworkers, and taking the time to reflect critically on these various forms of engagement. Sophomore Simardeep Nagyal reflects, “The issue [of farmworker rights] is very real and close to home. After creating videos focusing on issues important to the children of farmworkers, a connection facilitated by the SAF’s Levante Leadership Institute Youth Program, I realized that an effective approach to the issue requires cooperative action and, most importantly, the clear and loud voice of the farmworker community.”

Simardeep Nagyal presents her National Farmworker Awareness Week video during the Betsy Alden Outstanding Service-Learning Award ceremony, April 2013. Photograph by EB Landesberg.

Simardeep Nagyal presents her National Farmworker Awareness Week video during the Betsy Alden Outstanding Service-Learning Award ceremony, April 2013. Photograph by EB Landesberg.

Students not only produced short videos for SAF to use during its Farmworker Awareness Week outreach, but also spent the semester turning a critical eye toward a range of documentary projects about farmworkers and related topics, considering both the possibilities and the stakes of representation. Sophomore Lauren Henschel considers, “I came into the class knowing nothing at all about farmworker issues, and now I feel as if I can talk to anyone about the issue. I also have a new perspective on the field of documentary studies.” To produce their own videos, students used both original footage and videos and photographs from SAF’s extensive archive. As they have for years, SAF provided a kind of access to the voices, images, stories and struggles of farmworkers that would not otherwise have been possible, in addition to giving students a chance to contribute to their ongoing work.

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