Overall this independent study has been a huge learning experience for me. I think engaging in an independent study helped me to transition into real life action and got me out of the class room. Because the work was something I cared about and because it was often something I had to make time for outside of classes and work and other commitments, I think it was good to have that motivation and to learn how to continue engaging even after graduation.
When we started this independent study last semester, it was only the two of us and although we didn’t do any art installations ourselves, I feel as though it was an important time for both Joel and I as we figured out where to take this and how we were going to do that. During this time I was able to work on some art that reflected on the issues of student debt and I think that was an important time for me as well because I primarily express myself and figure thing out through doing—writing and art being two of those major ways I’m able to “do” that type of learning.
Major challenges and frustrations in the beginning were primarily around figuring out what we wanted to do, and being a bit divided within the group with what those things were. We never specifically made a mission statement and we never agreed on one main goal. Although one could argue why choose just one goal, I think in a semester long course that one goal is really all you have time for. I also didn’t quite see us as an “activist” group until much later on. Once we re-launched the debt fence I think most of us sort of had that “aha” moment where that felt like this was the type of thing we should have been doing all along. I don’t know about the rest of the group but I don’t really know what works, what I like, or what’s effective until I do it and although it feels as though we figured it out a little late, I think the learning experiences that came out of it were definitely worth it.
If this type of course were to continue it might be helpful to change the approach of some things. I think having the instructor meet once a week is fine, but I also think the students should meet once a week by themselves, even if just for a half an hour, and decide what they want to do, work on projects together, and brainstorm together instead of alone. I think this will enhance our sense of community and responsibility to each other as well as allow us to get to know each other better.
I like the idea of blog posts and making signage, and I even like our idea of having separate committees for different projects (ie. video letter). However, it might be useful to have the entire group focus on one thing collectively and diverge from there so that everyone is involved in one thing together, increasing overall communication. You could also take written feedback every couple of weeks because people might be more inclined to suggest something on paper than in person. It also might not be a question they thought about until prompted.
On campus I think the independent study environment, although slightly flawed, seems to be the only viable way to continue something like this because I can’t imagine people doing it without credit (although people join CEPA and PHENOM). I also think maybe talking to someone at either of the previously mentioned coalitions could help steer us in the right direction. Around campus I think the Debt Fence should become an annual thing, even if it is just Joel’s class that goes out during campus BBQ week at Umass and puts some signage up. I think it’s a good reminder and there is an opportunity to establish a presence for us here on campus this way.
As far as myself continuing this project next year, I would love to lend my talents but I’m afraid it will be mostly virtually and via emails. However, once I get situated, as I still do not have a job and that is my main (and frightening) priority at the moment, I will reach out and see what is doable in terms of my commitment to the group.
Thank you for a fantastic semester, all of you. A huge thank you to Joel for allowing me to explore my art at my own pace and for pushing us when we needed it.