Teresa Ramos- Graduate Student, Anthropology
"My own research experience in college has convinced me that undergraduate research opportunities are critical to providing greater access to post-graduate study for students of color. As a student who came to college from a city public school, it was my own undergraduate research experience with Ethnography of the University Initiative that led me to graduate school. I firmly believe that what the research university has to offer undergraduates is its research mission, one that ideally should touch many students regardless of race. As an undergrad I realized that I could mobilize EUI knowledge on racism at the University, professionally, privileging cultural anthropology methodology of participant observation (i.e., deep hanging out) and collective engagement with the University community, through research, writing, and teaching. Over the course of my post-secondary education experience I have developed my academic and activist engagement with the EUI project, which critically interrogates the University.
EUI shaped my academic development through passionate engagement in anti-essentialist projects, critiquing white privilege in education, and a commitment to increasing the number of students of color in the academy. EUI was originally designed to get students to do research on the University, emphasizing the process of research – from questions to ethnography – and with students' permission cull their work into a digital archive made accessible to future researchers. The EUI webpage states "EUI approaches universities and colleges—their institutions, organizations, maps, and histories—as composite networks of diverse verbal, visual, and statistical narratives. The ethnography of the university encourages qualitative research in small-scale, local increments: as they accumulate, such inquiries reveal large-scale structures and their zeitgeist," (http://www.eotu.uiuc.edu/EOTUMODEL/index.htm). In this regard EUI has the capacity to take a social justice approach to research by developing two of the themes of Critical Race Theory, namely "encouraging a greater interdisciplinary understanding of the underpinnings of race and racism" and having students engage in what Greta McMorris and other CRT scholars call counter story-telling by exposing the disconnect between what the university says about itself and students actual experiences (1999: 691).
Although in its design, EUI was not a project specifically meant to tackle issues of racism and inequity in higher education, many students like myself and not only students of color took up these broad issues in their critical examination of the University. Because students' interactions with the University are very informative about 'business as usual' at the University, with students that are supposed to be the focus of higher education and many university resources are for them. Usually students begin EUI projects by asking several questions about the university that stem from observations they've made about campus. For example, one student asked, "Are the Residence Halls segregated by Race?" This student, like many, noticed a segregated racial dynamic in student housing which disrupted her understandings of the University as a supposedly race-neutral space. In interactions with other students who bring in a collective body of knowledge (i.e. their experiences in the Residence Halls) students begin to collect ethnographic accounts and interrogate university practices. Since 2003 EUI students in courses across several campus disciplines have asked: "What is a University?; Whose University is This?; What is the impact of college athletics?; What is it like for students who aren't in the Chicago Suburbs? (UIUC is 2 hours south of Chicago and has a very different racial demographic); What impact do international students have on University life?; How do students make it financially?; Are men and women treated differently here?; How does race matter here?"
I came to the UIUC anthropology program because of the support I got from a few faculty members as an undergraduate at UIUC working on an EUI project called the 'Ethnography of the Brown Commemoration' (EBC). The Brown Commemoration (BC) was an extensive campus wide commemoration and at times critical reflection of the Brown decision. Only one college–engineering–did not participate. EBC was a student ethnography of 'race' and racism on campus experienced via participating in BC events and documenting and engaging in conversations on racism at UIUC. This extensive undergraduate research on racism showed it as engrained in campus climate and is what led me to want to research racism through Critical Race Theory and the discipline of anthropology (of education) at UIUC. The EUI continues to afford these valuable research experiences to undergraduates at UIUC and at colleges throughout the State of Illinois."