It started out as an idea, and worked into a cross-campus, cross-disciplinary, cross-town collaboration with deep relational benefits and stories that span and can be shared for generations to come.
The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay class, HUS 483: Documenting Memory, involves students working on multiple projects in oral history and story collection. Led by English Prof. Rebecca Meacham, in coordination with Social Work Professor Gail Trimberger, UW-Green Bay English, Education and Humanistic Studies majors worked with interns from UWGB’s Social Work program to document the lives of Unity palliative patients. Students met with interview subject multiple times, interviewed them, and created transcripts and audio files for the UWGB archives. Unity-partnered students prepared a full-color, hardbound, professionally printed Life Journal, which was proudly presented to the patient.
“I knew walking in that going out to document a 92 year-old’s life story would be life changing,” reflected UWGB student Hannah Stepp. “Having only lived 21 years myself, adding another 70 years gives you plenty more stories to tell and lessons to share. I think the most moving moment of it all was learning that no matter how many years you’ve lived, there are still moments or people or conversations that ignite feelings that are still very raw. My interviewee in particular began to cry when talking about a member of her family who had been deployed, and it was incredible to me that 70 years after this had occurred it still could bring tears.”
English major Jamie Stahl worked as a photographer throughout the project and said the impact was profound.
“Life-changing seems such a hollow term, but the best under the circumstances,” she said, after sitting in on a number of interviews. “It truly opened my eyes to the treasure of each life, the value in truly listening to another, and the wealth gained in such an exchange. The Documenting Memories class is one I have discussed endlessly in my home community as revolutionary for students, but it also works towards building and valuing the community in which we live. As a future English teacher this will be a lesson I hope to bring a version of into my own classroom!”
Stepp said the experience provided a new perspective for her. As one who is busy with with Student Government, volunteering, school and a job, she said the experience taught her to slow down.
“In my crazy busy life I forgot to slow down and really appreciate my life and observe what is going on around me,” she said. “Life moves so quickly, and one day if you’re lucky like my interviewee, you get to sit back and reminisce on those times. Don’t let it fly past you. I talk about this project nearly every day to my friends and family, because it really had an impact, and I told my interviewee this when we last talked.”
Other members of the class partnered with military veterans, as well as UWGB alumni and notable community liaisons, providing them with similar opportunities. University Archivist Deb Anderson worked with the class as well. The class will be offered again in Spring 2016.
Photos by UWGB student Jamie Stahl and Prof. Rebecca Meacham
Top photo: UWGB student Katie Nieman and Delores, a Unity palliative respite patient
Second photo: Rebecca Meacham (left) and Deb Anderson (second left) with the Documenting Memories class
Third photo: Nieman presents Delores with the life journal she made for her; Lizzie, a Unity Hospice social worker is to the right
Fourth photo: From left to right, Delores, Nieman, Meacham, and Unity’s Christy Brozak