Humanizing Oral Histories: Student Podcasts on Identity, Learning, and Resistance

Ruth Asawa – student podcasts

Through a consultancy with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Teacher-Librarians Department, the VOW Education Program has been working with several middle and high schools around the city to develop oral history projects for their classrooms. At the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, VOW collaborated with teacher Bruna Lee to create a podcast project for her Ethnic Studies course, allowing students to explore a diverse range of themes: identity, culture, family, resistance, immigration, and more.

The resulting project, Humanizing Oral Histories: Podcasts from SOTA Ethnic Studies 2019-20, is available online!

Students interviewed an elder in their community about a topic of their choice. Conversations included race, interracial relationships, feminism, art, immigration, and activism. They then transformed the interviews into a podcast. Students learned how to conduct an interview, synthesize information, and edit audio files. However, the most valuable takeaway was the wisdom that their interviewees shared with them.

A few students shared their reflections on the project:

Through this project I have learned the value of oral history and how it has the power to show us more about different stories and perspectives. Using oral history allows us to connect with different narratives because we look deeper into people’s lives. We see the complexity of every individual and their stories.

M.L., 12th grader. They interviewed a sibling about their experience seeking healthcare for mental illness in a major city.

I talked to my grandpa about class, immigration, and how life is different from his homeland and the US. I didn’t know much about his past until we did this project. I definitely feel like it’s changed my point of view and the way I see my grandparents. After hearing these stories, it really opened my eyes to see how hard they’ve worked and how many things they had to overcome.

S.C., 12th grader. They interviewed their grandfather about growing up in a small village in China and immigrating to San Francisco to build a family.

It was an interesting project. It was different, it was definitely different from any other project I’ve done in any other class. But I think that was cool because usually, like especially for classes like these, we do a poster, and while that can be fun, it gets kind of repetitive. And also I’m not the best artist. It was really interesting to sit down and talk to somebody that I wouldn’t normally have a conversation with deeply, and do something with the podcast that’s not just creating a poster or writing an essay. I thought it was a really unique way of learning about something.

E.G., 12th grader. They interviewed a family friend about her experience growing up as a Black woman in the US and her father’s experience as one of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Listen to the students’ podcasts here, and sign up for more Voice of Witness education program updates through our newsletter.

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