During the last phase of our final ethics project, I set out to interview one of two residents I had identified from news articles pertaining to the sanitation crisis in the Black Belt region of rural Alabama (you will hear more about the issue when you watch my video). One component we are supposed to consider when selecting interview candidates is to consider someone “who seems to have limited professional, political, and/or economic power, and whose voice is not usually captured prominently or accurately in official reports about the case.”
These residents, then, seemed like prime interviewees because they definitely had limited power and surely they would make time to share their story. Then I started to ask myself if I’m worthy of their time.
Of course, I genuinely care and would love the opportunity to be let in, but I’m no journalist. For now, or in the near future, I have no plans of writing a book illuminating the struggles of these individuals. The best I can guarantee is that my classroom community will come to a basic understanding of the issue–given their brains aren’t too fatigued from the other 18 presentations.
If I thought I could make an impact on getting this story out to the people who would and could do something, there would be no hesitation on that end. I, have even grown tired brainstorming how I could incorporate these efforts in my own graduate research. If not this issue specifically, then at least taking into consideration communities whose realities are often overlooked in the mainstream classes in my field (e.g., decentralized wastewater treatment)–in my own research and even the curriculum I may have the chance develop if I become a faculty member. I have actually had to transform these ideas into concrete plans in a class I am currently taking through the graduate school titled: Contemporary Pedagogy–highly recommend!
I think exploring the project until this point has helped me to realize the ultimate goal, which is to step outside what I have been trained and dig deeper. And I have been able to do this, without having to interview these residents. I also think having taken the class, I am even more prone to consider the ethical implications of my actions. In this case, I cannot say I support asking someone who is going through a real-time struggle to make time for my ethics project because I have to find someone with limited power. It’s just giving me exploitative vibes.
To clarify, I think the interview does challenge us to listen and tell an accurate narrative–this is not the part of the final project that I am questioning. I have no doubt incredible projects have emerged from this project. I, on the other hand, decided to change course and decided to reach out to two people that were a little further removed, but perhaps still have limited political and economic power in the sense they have to work hard to be heard–a community activist and an assistant professor, both natives of the region.
I don’t know, maybe I did the residents a disservice by not allowing them to tell their stories. However, it’s not like I would be the first to do so–I mean, I had to learn about them somewhere.
I accept that I may be missing the point. So I ask, what are your thoughts?