RCAH concludes spring semester with community events, showcases, and performances

Poetry Attack – Sunday, April 26

Students in Guillermo Delgado’s Art and Public Life class collaborated with Carolyn White, founder of the East Lansing Street Arts Commission for the annual Poetry Attack. The event brings poetry into the community by hanging the work of local poets on trees in front of the East Lansing Public Library. It speaks to the connection between poetry, nature and community.

“What I like most about Poetry Attack is that there’s an opportunity for RCAH students to engage with community members that they normally don’t connect or cross paths with. And, within the community, poets coming out of their closets and converging at one place. It’s a great way to build community and start conversations about poetry,” Delgado said.

Delgado’s class first got involved when he met White in a local coffee shop. Delgado had mistaken White for someone else he knew, and the two strangers ended up striking up a conversation about poetry. They continued to meet at the coffee shop once a week, and they eventually decided that the Art and Public Life class would help out with Poetry Attack.

The class helped out with advertising and fundraising as well as hanging the poems on the trees.They also organized a fundraiser for the event back in February. RCAH students raised more than $200 through “Haiku for Your Honey,” which took place around Valentine’s Day. The students wrote original haiku for passers-by and their loved ones on typewriters in honor of Valentine’s Day.

“It reminds people that poetry matters and it brings people together. You get to hear voices you may never have gotten a chance to hear,” Delgado said.


RCAH Spring Showcase –Tuesday, April 28

112 Public Knowledge

Students in all RCAH 112 classes presented their research projects in this year’s Spring Showcase. Each first-year student transformed a research paper into a poster presentation and gave their ‘elevator speeches’ to a public audience at the forum.

Throughout the semester, the students  have been studying a range of topics to help prepare them for their own research projects. Professor Eric Aronoff’s students learned about the re-imagination of American culture in the 1920s and 1930s. Professor Scot Yoder’s examined ethical issues in research and writing. Professor Tama Hamilton-Wray’s students explored the social, political, economic and artistic implications of black female-centered film. Professor Mark Balawender’s students looked at shifting conceptions of social violence. Professor Austin Jackson’s students studied the function of culture in maintaining and resisting unjust power relations.

Specifically, Yoder’s class focused on bioethics, and students’ research topics ranged from assisted death to abortion to genetic testing.

Yoder said the spring showcase provides an opportunity for students to learn academic as well as practical skills.

“In a lot of different jobs, you’re going to be asked to do research in one form or another. It’s good practice,” Yoder said. “The process of moving from the research paper to a poster is an interesting design issue. You have to think how is the audience different? How is the media different?  It really impacts the message.” 

Jackson’s students examined the ways diverse communities have used art and culture to move people to social action. They covered topics ranging from the experience of transgender African Americans to the role of language in upholding structural discrimination.

“They’re examples of projects that translate to meaningful activity outside the classroom,” Jackson said. “How do we take these concepts and values and make them actionable and create a structure that’s sustainable? RCAH values not just what’s inside of one classroom but how that translates into engagement with things that go on outside the classroom and appreciating the diversity of approaches to humanities research is extremely important.”

ILO Showcase

RCAH students also exhibited their final Integrated Language Option (ILO) video projects in the Spring Showcase.

RCAH and theatre junior Angelica Snyder is studying Haitian Creole. Snyder got her first taste of the language on a trip to Haiti the summer before her freshman year at MSU. She said she knew she wanted to learn the language, but she didn’t expect it to be so easy to find a program. After a chat with RCAH professor India Plough, Snyder was able to get connected with Louise Michelle Vital, a language mentor who speaks Haitian Creole, and the two set to work.

Snyder has been studying the language for about three semesters. This semester, Snyder paired her ILO with her work in Dylan Miner’s class on the transculturation of food. She and Vital created a video that described Haitian food and food preparation. At the Spring Showcase, Snyder and Vital served pate, a Haitian meat pie, alongside their video.

This summer, Snyder is back in Haiti with her family, helping to host guests in their island property. She says she often gets a chance to use the language, especially when working with the other staff members.

“They speak exclusively Creole with me and we sit around and chat quite a bit. It's been fun to interact with them more and get to know them through speaking Creole. Last summer it was quite difficult to have a full conversation, and now I feel as though I know the ladies quite well and we joke around and make fun of each other and play around,” Snyder said. “There is so much value in simply sitting down for an hour or two to speak the new language and keep it fresh. Even if I met with Michelle and we didn't deliberately go over any new grammar or words and we simply talked or read a news article, it would help me immensely to retain what I have already learned. It's like exercising a muscle. If I would have gotten to Haiti without practicing the language I wouldn't have been able to speak nearly as well or understand and it would have taken me a lot longer even to catch up to even just where I had gotten last summer.”

The ILO program is Snyder’s first experience with second-language learning. She says she really appreciates the opportunity for individual instruction and that it’s given her a new way of thinking.

“It's less about language and more about establishing relationships,” she said. “It brings on a whole new perspective that cannot be achieved from anything else.”


Art@Work Narrative Portraits – Thursday, April 30

The RCAH’s collaboration with Peckham continues with Art@Work Narrative Portraits. The project partners RCAH students with Peckham employees to share stories across multiple media platforms. The class and their Peckham partners shared their work at an unveiling on April 30 at Peckham’s Riverside location.

“I thought about how we could represent them visually, a snapshot of that person,” Hamilton-Wray said.

Students in Professor Hamilton-Wray’s class interviewed their partners at Peckham and worked to create a collection of visual and recorded personal stories.

Throughout the project, the students would take their work back to Peckham to share with the individuals who inspired it. They would receive comments and feedback and then alter it to convey the message the storyteller wanted.

“It’s not just me telling you a story and you listening. It’s also interacting,” she said. “One of the things I think can happen in storytelling and painting is because it’s really based on talking and sitting face to face with someone, there’s a certain kind of intimacy, a certain kind of vulnerability. And people were open to that … The stories had to be some type of exchange. Oral histories and stories allow people to see windows into other people’s lives that painting does, but in a different way,” she said

Since the semester ended, Hamilton-Wray said she’s received a number of messages from Peckham partners detailing how much the project has impacted their lives.

“In talking and doing oral histories, they worked through things or discovered something about themselves that they hadn’t thought about or their own challenges and how they came through those challenges. They were empowered by telling the story in a way they hadn’t been before,” she said.

The collaboration has also been beneficial to students.

“They found they could meet someone they didn’t know at all and establish a relationship in a pretty short period of time,” Hamilton-Wray said. “We may not remember someone’s name, but if a person tells you a story and the story touches you, often times you remember the story and nothing else.”

You can view the growing collection of Narrative Portraits videos here.


#TBT RCAHppella Concert – Thursday, April 30

The Residential College’s a cappella group gave their final performance of the year on Thursday, April 30. The concert, themed #TBT, featured a collection of the group’s songs from throughout the years.

“We’ve been wanting to do a themed concert that reflects our music choices for a long time,” Becky Barron, RCAH senior, said.

The group performed music from the 1940s all the way to today, such as Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” and a mash-up of Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom” and Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.”

“This concert is something everyone knows. We have grandparents and parents and students who all come, so it’s nice to have songs that everybody is really familiar with. Even the older songs are very recognizable.”

Barron joined RCAHppella the second semester of her freshman year. Originally, she auditioned in the fall and didn’t make it, but when a spot opened up in the spring, she decided to try again.

“One of the members of the group reached out to me and was like, ‘We really loved your audition last time, but we only had space for one person. Come back and try again,’” Barron said. “It was nice to be encouraged by another member of the group.”

Barron especially likes the team effort behind a cappella music.

“It’s unique with a cappella – there are no instruments, nothing to hide behind. It’s just your voice and the other people and you have to blend in. It’s not about being the star, you might have one solo throughout the semester; it’s a lot more intricate than people think it is.

#TBT was Barron’s last concert. She graduated in May 2015 and is heading on to graduate school in the fall.

“It’s been such a big part of my college career. We’re a very close group, very tight knit. It’s turned into one big family. Those people are some of my best, best friends, and I’m sad to be leaving but I also feel like I’ve hit my time and I’m excited to pass the torch on to someone else and see what’s next for them.”

Click here to watch a video of the show.


“This is Who We Are” performance – Monday, May 4

On Monday, May 4, Professor Lisa Biggs’ RCAH 291 class performed their collective original work, “This is Who We Are” in the RCAH Theater. The performance featured a combination of scripted scenes, improvisation, sculptures, and poetry which centered on ideas about gender and identity formation.

“There isn’t a linear narrative, it’s more imaginative. It’s an exploration of a series of events the cast identified as being pivotal to their understanding of what gender is and how one does it and the implications for not doing it well,” Biggs said.

The class has been working on the script throughout the semester.

“Mid-term, we sat down and I asked them, ‘What’s the big topic in the room?’ and they were interested in exploring gender and feminist theater practice. We talked about identifying the things that were poisonous to them and burying them, eviscerating them. The piece attempts to do all of those things,” Biggs said.

After the class identified a theme, they had to work to fit everything together. For time’s sake, Biggs pieced the script together and then brought it to the students for editing.

“We read through and I say, ‘I know this isn’t going to be the right thing, so tell me what is the right thing.’ I try not to do much writing but to refine or build transitions based on what they say,” she said.

The theme of the class is “theater for social change,” which is based off of theater practices that emphasize collaboration and accessibility.

“In the fullest sense, theater for social change is about expressing dissent from the norm as well as a desire for a more inclusive world to emerge. It’s a powerful medium through which to think through and envision and momentarily stage the world we wish we had … It’s work that’s relevant to the people who are making it and to the people who are coming to see it,” Biggs said. “Everybody is doing some of everything. Everybody has to act, everybody’s contributed something in words. Everyone has a stake in it and expressing how it should be on the stage.”


Eastside Pride Portait Project Unveiling – Monday, May 4

Students in RCAH adjunct professor Jeremy Herliczek’s arts workshop spent the semester exploring documentary photography as a tool for social justice.

Herliczek, a former Lansing State Journal photojournalist said, “Journalism is all about being objective, but this is about being nonobjective. It’s about actively wanting to create social change and how you can go about doing that using photography.”

RCAH students work with residents of Lansing’s Eastside neighborhood to create a collection of portraits that works to tell the story of the community. The students unveiled the collection at Allen Market Place on Monday, May 4.

“When neighbors come in and see themselves or their own neighbors on the wall, I hope they get a sense of pride about our neighborhood. Having a visual story on our wall is a great reminder of the strength of the community,” he said. “You try to engage the public in your work. You find an issue you’re passionate about and that you’re interested in making a change in society about and you tell that story visually. And then you market that work and get them to act toward creating change.”

You can view the photo and narrative collection here.


Story by RCAH student Kelsey Block. Photos by Katie Wittenauer.