Editor’s Note: In the interest of transparency, the author of this article is a student of Dr. Rob’s Communication Research Methods 311 class this semester, and she will also take part in the performance.
In the present era of “us versus them,” Americans cannot help but see those different from themselves as “other”, whether that be in terms of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability or more. The country has had a history of scrutinizing and demonizing every inch of the human spirit, and it seems as though part of the American experience is judging others voraciously. However, there is more that unites than divides us. Many Americans often bond over how “othered” they have felt, making the concept of solidarity somewhat ironic.
On Tuesday, May 7, from 1:30 – 2:45 p.m., students from Dr. Robert Gutierrez-Perez’s COM 311 class will be performing “Reno: More than (An) Othered” in the Frandsen Humanities Building at the University of Nevada, Reno. Space and seating are limited. Their performance will demonstrate how it feels to be an “other” in the Biggest Little City. As one line from the performance puts it blatantly, “Reno will wreck your life if you allow it.”
Throughout the semester, students in Dr. Gutierrez-Perez’s class researched what it meant to be an “other” in Reno by interviewing ordinary folks in the city. Their goal was to learn about one person’s life story and ethically portray it through an oral history performance. But the academic exercise transcended campus walls and became a more eye-opening experience for some of the students. Jacob McClelland admits he would have never understood the hopeless battle his interviewee was fighting before this assignment.
“The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of my other were foreign to me,” said McClelland.
Dr. Gutierrez-Perez was also hoping his students realized how important knowing someone’s story can be for one’s personal growth.
“Otherness is such a human emotion, and everyone at one point has felt like an ‘other,’” he said. “It’s [also] an inclusive feeling, even if it’s [an excluding act].”
For the past three years, Dr. Rob has given this assignment to his students and said he always enjoys observing how each story comes together at the end of the semester. Through these oral history performances, students have conducted research that can be academically rigorous and have soul.
As the students studied and rigorously reflected on their interviewees, Dr. Gutierrez-Perez witnessed how his students empathized with their interviewee’s struggles and hardships. Each class lecture emphasized the need to portray the interviewee ethically. The objective of aesthetic communication is not to become a performer who embodies characters, but rather to use the human body as a text that triggers an emotional and reflective response from the audience.
To understand the power of rhetoric, communications studies students — and everyone else — must learn to speak with someone, rather than speaking about, to or for them. This performance is not meant to entertain the audience, but to move them in more ways than one. Throughout various scenes, they will be forced to acknowledge bodies moving through the classroom and feel tensions the performer is conveying. By the end of the performance, the audience shall leave with a sense of having been a part of the whole experience.
Communication Research Methods 311 class is a mandatory course taken by all communications studies majors, or by some who cannot get enough of developing research questions from an overarching topic. The class typically requires students to write a research paper by developing a topic and conducting fieldwork. But Dr. Gutierrez-Perez challenges his students to do meaningful research differently. In his class, he argues for the pursuit of knowledge through the physically and mentally demanding work of creating oral history performances.
“Life is hard, but you only have yourself to get through it.”
This line from the performance is unsettling, given the context. Someone who has felt like an “other” must often face life by themselves, and usually not by choice. Despite the social phenomena of “us versus them”, “Reno: More than (An) Othered” invites the audience to realize that an “other” is not someone different, but someone’s whose story has not been heard.
To find out more about the research findings for this project, contact Dr. Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara Gallego can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.