Student Research & Special Projects

Cultivating Racial Equity, Empowerment, and Community Activism: An Ethnography of the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens

Student Presenter: Jennifer Alaine
2023 Fall Symposium

This project’s significance is bound to the current historical ‘moment’. It is a moment that began in 2009 with the inauguration of the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama. Some believed his two-term presidency was a turning point for United States democracy, a culmination of all that the 1950s and ‘60s Civil Rights Movement sought to achieve. However, his presidency may instead have peeled back an old scab and prompted the start of the US ‘culture war’. In an apparent backlash, fueled by misinformation, Obama’s tenure was followed by the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Since then, there has been an almost continuous ripple of unrest throughout our society: the Women’s March, the Unite the Right rally, climate activism, climate denialism, COVID pandemic believers and doubters, the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police, and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests. It is within the overwhelming uncertainty and stress of this moment that this project takes place. This ethnography considers issues of racial equity, empowerment, and community activism through the lens of those involved with the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens in the historically black Burton Street neighborhood of West Asheville, North Carolina. Conducted between January and November 2023, it is a site-specific study situated within a larger conversation regarding empowerment at the grass-roots level. Ethnographic research is rooted in documentation of the dialectic between individual action and community empowerment directed towards the goal of transformative social change. The study focuses primarily on activities related to three food-producing gardens, community events, and the outdoor art gallery at the main Peace Garden location. Insights are drawn from participant observation, conversations and interviews that give voice to the Peace Gardens’ founders, their employees, community volunteers, and visitors, as well as from relevant academic and mainstream sources.

Beneath the mask: An exploration of self-expression and presentation through the lens of virtual youtubers

Student Presenter: Dakota Estes
2023 Fall Symposium

“If you could be anything you want, what would you be?” This is one of the key questions that this ethnography seeks to explore through the lens of virtual youtubers (vtubers). Vtubers are content creators who use animated digital avatars (known in the community as “models” or “rigs”) that mirror their movements through motion capture technologies in place of webcams in videos and live streams. This provides them with a great deal of freedom and control over how they present themselves online while remaining relatively anonymous. Research into community history and fieldwork taking place on the reddit, YouTube, and twitch websites over the course of the last year are used to get a first-hand understanding of this community and give context to comparisons made to existing ethnographic works and theoretical models. Methods include discourse analysis of community discussions, observation through watching streams, and participation via livestreaming on twitch. Ideas drawn from existing literature such as ethnographies of avatar-based virtual worlds like vrchat and second life, and research into twitch in general are also used to aid in the development of a theoretical framework. That framework is used to place this work within the context of current understandings of identity and self-presentation within the social sciences, as well as establish the status of the vtuber persona in relation to the broader self. The process of crafting the persona itself is also explored through the lens of the use of preexisting symbolism to communicate new ideas while embracing or intentionally subverting the expectations that come with their use.

“I’m Done Dating White People”: Experiences of Intimate Partner Racism by AAPI in Interracial Relationships

Student Presenter: Saiesh Srivastava
2023 Fall Symposium

Race makes a difference in every sphere of our lives and, unsurprisingly, it affects our intimate relationships as well. The term “intimate partner racism,” coined by Yampolsky et al. (2022) refers to the racism that can occur within romantic relationships and dating. This study aims to explore the types of intimate partner racism experienced by AAPI men as well as AAPI women and to understand how gender roles intersect with racist stereotyping in the dating sphere. This research hypothesizes that men and women experience similar amounts of intimate partner racism, but live and report the experiences differently as a result of differential gender stereotypes and norms. Ten Asian-American women and ten Asian-American men were prompted to discuss their experiences dating opposite-sex partners outside of the AAPI diaspora. They were asked to reflect on their experiences of stereotyping, racism, and exotification within their dating lives as well as their mixed-race relationships. This data is then compared across genders to compile similarities and differences, thus serving as a jumping-off point for further research on Asian American men’s experiences with yellow fever and other forms of intimate partner racism. Data will be collected in the coming months.

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