March 23, 2010
If you’re going to study the effects of globalization on women, it might be a good idea to journey outside of Central Florida. This was the thinking behind a spring break field-study for credit launched by the Rollins philosophy and anthropology departments. The brainchild of Professor of Philosophy and Religion Margaret McLaren and Assistant Professor of Anthropology Rachel Newcomb, this immersion experience enticed students out of the classroom and into an exciting journey to rural Mexico where issues of social justice, migration and global trade transcended the textbook and rooted themselves into everyday life.
“The Mexico field study was created for students to experience first-hand the effects of globalization on women,” said McLaren. During previous visits to Mexico, McLaren had connected with a non-profit organization called The Center for Global Justice (GJC) located in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, about three-and-a-half hours north of Mexico City.
The organization, which works in rural Mexican communities to help women find methods of sustainable living, became the launching pad for daily explorations to agricultural communities and women-operated cooperatives. Each day, McLaren and 13 participating students walked a mile across town to the GJC for a short briefing from community organizers before heading out to neighboring communities to observe and dialogue with global women in action.
“My biggest ‘ah-ha moment’ was realizing that the women in these rural communities we visited had a lot of dignity, pride and happiness,” reflected Mary Robinson (Class of 2010). “They did not consider themselves poor or underprivileged and I learned much more from them than they did from us.”
Not only did the group observe a lot of creative entrepreneurialism, but they also witnessed dozens of eco-conscious efforts towards sustainability. “I was absolutely awestruck by some of the sustainable technologies that were used at the cooperatives,” said student Meredith Lohwasser (Class of 2011). “Here, finally, was a simple and practical solution to the world's environmental problems.”
San Miguel de Allende is a region where there is a water and energy shortage. “So, we saw a lot of positive technologies employed such as solar and water heaters, water recycling methods and energy efficient wood-burning stoves,” said McLaren. Students observed how these women were adapting to poverty while adopting a sustainable, eco-conscious lifestyle.
A group discussion concluded each day where students shared some of the experiences they later reflected upon in their daily journals. Field observations and journal entries were used to write a reflective paper that connected their experiences to the material they were reading and the concepts and issues covered in class.
Perhaps the most intriguing component of this field-study trip, however, was that each student was required to participate in a group project that benefited one or more of the communities they visited. One group of students has begun creating a Web site for one of the cooperatives, complete with bios, photos and personal interviews with the women who work there. The Web site will be linked to the GJC. A second group of students is creating a brochure for the GJC that will educate and inform other colleges about the possibility of these educational trips. Another group is creating articles about their trip such as the revolving loan program and the various types of cooperatives found in rural Mexico.
The connection between classroom concepts and field observations was clearly drawn. Every participating student was given the opportunity to see the issues they had studied fully actualized in the real-world enriching their knowledge of globalization and its impact on women.
“Field studies are such an important part of education at Rollins because of the personal perspectives they offer students,” Lohwasser said. “As wonderful as the classroom is, nothing can replace going out into the world and experiencing it yourself. Reading articles about the issues is beneficial, but it simply cannot compare to experiencing them firsthand.”
Photos submitted by Meredith Lohwasser (Class of 2011)