Voice of Witness Editor Ricia Chansky Wins Oral History Association Teaching Award

Mi Maria project

Dr. Ricia Anne Chansky, professor in the English department at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, is the coeditor of the forthcoming Voice of Witness (VOW) project, Mi María: Surviving the Storm.

 Voice of Witness worked with Dr. Chansky and more than a hundred of her students to collect and amplify the stories of survivors across the island. Mi María brings together stories of survival, community, and strength with an interrogation of the politics of citizenry rooted in the history of Puerto Rico and the United States.

Ricia Chansky Headshot
Dr. Ricia Chansky, editor of the forthcoming VOW project, Mi María: Narratives of the Hurricane and Its Aftermath in Puerto Rico

In recognition of her pedagogical work with students that blossomed into this public oral history project, we’re thrilled to celebrate Dr. Chansky for receiving the Oral History Association’s Post-Secondary Teaching Award.

After Hurricane María, Dr. Chansky invited students to write their own hurricane memoirs. Most were written in pen on paper as electricity was still out. Recognizing the value of this work, Dr. Chansky designed the Mi María project and partnered with Voice of Witness, inspired by the premise that students could help themselves and their home communities if they expanded this voluntary memoir lesson into an oral history project.

After intensive training during the VOW Story Lab, Dr. Chansky returned to the university where she taught over a hundred undergraduate students from all majors and disciplines to ethically collect, transcribe, translate, and edit oral history narratives. All of these students are survivors of Hurricane María—each with their own story to tell—who went into their home communities to collect unheard stories of the hurricane and its aftermath. The project aims to support often disempowered communities to reclaim agency through the facilitation of a public sharing of narratives. As Dr. Chansky wrote, “I did not intend to begin an ongoing, large-scale project in the midst of disaster, rather, I started this work out of an ethics of care for my students.”

In response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new stage of the project, “Sheltered in Place,” will use the existing model of employing oral history to help students and communities heal and reclaim their narratives in times of ongoing disaster. Dr. Chansky also received the Oral History Association’s Emerging Crises Grant for this phase of the project.

Read student perspectives on the project here and get a behind-the-scenes look in this audio series from Voice of Witness.

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