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Documenting Cross-cultural Conversations - Humboldt State Now

Documenting Cross-cultural Conversations

When students from diverse populations join in solidarity, how much do they understand their cultural differences and the causes they’re uniting for? That’s the question Humboldt State Journalism Professor Kirby Moss will ask as part of an audio documentary research project underway through the spring semester.

Moss will record conversations between students of color in which they explore their understanding and preconceptions of each other’s cultural backgrounds.

Having attended campus protests and public discussions regarding race and social justice at Humboldt State, Moss says he began to notice that much of the conversation focused on the conflicts and concepts of whiteness and the challenges students of color contend with. He also noticed that students of color from diverse backgrounds would often join in solidarity for a number of causes.

In further conversations, though, he would notice a lack of experience and understanding between these groups. He began to wonder, “Do black students really know what changes to DACA mean for Latino students, for example?” he says.

And when he asked black and Latino students why they were protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, he found that they supported Native American rights but didn’t understand that community’s concerns about the pipeline itself.

In recorded conversations that will take place in the spring semester, Moss will ask students of color to talk honestly about their awareness of each other’s cultures. He’s currently developing questions and talking points with his student researchers to guide the discussions.

“Will more understanding increase the level of solidarity that students of color tend to have with one another?” Moss asks. “It stands to reason, but confronting uncomfortable truths within different communities of students of color may prove difficult. That’s part of the process of growth and understanding and empathy.”

The project is supported by a $4,000 Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities award, a grant funded by the CSU Chancellor’s Office.

Moss’s background combines anthropology, ethnography, and journalism, and he’s the author of the 2003 book, “The Color of Class: Poor Whites and the Paradox of Privilege,” which explores the incongruities of social class in a Midwest city.

While he’s long been a writer, with a background in print journalism, he’s excited to explore new territory with the audio documentary, a medium that he says is accessible both to listeners and journalists.

“I enjoy writing, but with recorded conversations there’s more depth—the dialect, for example,” he says. “Audio captures not just what they say but the way they say it.”

Moss expects the project will find an audience in public radio—though for now he’s focusing on completing the research. He hopes it will be a starting point for a national conversation between people of color from different backgrounds and a jumping off point for a series of audio documentaries around the country. “Each region, city, and community has its own cultural context, but there are universals too— I want to explore those patterns in this research.”

Ultimately, he thinks it can build unity. “It’s exciting having students involved. It’s really intriguing for them to be able to explore these concepts. I hope that it brings togetherness—increases solidarity. It may or may not—but hopefully it will lead to honest conversations.”