Voices Project Carries On

Melissa Milbut, Reporter

Organizers of “The Voices Project” plan to move forward with future performances.

The latest installment wrapped up last spring with “The Voices Project: Mental Health,” a student and faculty-written performance about of mental health disorders with the goal of removing stigma.

Psychology professor Dr. Alicia Nordstrom began “The Voices Project”  in 2009 as a research project to find out if students’ interviewing and interacting with people of various groups may improve students’ attitudes about them and understanding of them.

Nordstrom said removing the stigma behind stereotypes is just one of the many benefits to continuing the programming.

“I think stereotypes mean different things depending on the group. That’s what I’ve learned each time I do [Voices].

Dr. Amanda Caleb, Associate Professor of English, Director of Medical and Health Humanities, and co-writer of The Voices Project: Mental Health, said she would love to remain involved and has ideas for what the project might look like.

“One idea I have is to focus on aging and the aging population. There would be a little overlap with what we’ve seen this year, but I think we have a tendency to dismiss the aging population; understanding their needs better would benefit everyone.”

Olivia Katulka, sophomore psychology student and stage manager,  has suggestions of her own.

“I think [Voices] is a unique project about displaying the honesty of mental illness. We could do a Voices about justice and injusticepeople who were wrongly accused of a crime, people who are victims of racism or sexism, any kind of injustice, basically. Voices is about bringing light to topics that are either misrepresented or not talked about.

Nordstrom said the idea is “fascinating.”

“Prisoners are actually a very vulnerable population, which is not usually how we think of them because we think of what got them there, you know? This project is a reason to build to have a conversation with someone that you would never normally talk to. I think prisoners would be a really important experience. To have students going in and interviewing people at a prison—I think it would be life-changing.”

Nordstrom has a solid plan for her next installment, but she is always open to suggestions.

“I’m always keeping ideas stored because sometimes people will share ideas with me. I think given our political climate what I’d love to do is a Voices Project on immigrants and patriots because I think that’s a dichotomy that people make. They think if you’re an immigrant you’re not a patriot, you know. You’re sort of this outsider living in America.”

Caleb said the need for the program exists and she hopes to be involved as long as Nordstrom will have her.

“I hope [Voices] keeps going indefinitely. I think there is a future because unfortunately there is a lot of stigma out there about a number of people. But I do hope that one year, there won’t need to be a Voices Project.

Nordstrom said her latest installment isnt quite finished yet.  She still has to complete the research portion.

“I’m actually trying three different interventions to reduce stereotypes in students. The first one was studentsthe 50 who did the interviews in the fall. My second goal for this study is that I’m actually studying that question of if we can use theater to reduce stereotypes. The third part was that I also hired a documentary crew to follow us in the fall like a reality show.”

She said a film crew visited classes, spoke with the students who were doing the interviews, and the crew recorded some of the actual interviews as well. The end product will be a 55 minute documentary.

“That could be another different way that we might be able to reduce stereotypes,” Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom said in the fall she will examine the impact that watching a documentary may have on people’s attitudes. She predicts that all three parts of the research will make a difference but to different degrees.

“So I think the direct contact [between students and interviewees] will be the most powerful. I would predict that the show will be the next most powerful, and then I predict that the documentary will be the least powerful of the three because it’s the most removed from actual people because you’re watching them on a screen. But I could be totally wrong. Part of research is putting it out there and seeing what’s true.” 

She said she looks forward to doing her research with students.

“I have surveys to the students the first week of the semester, again after the project was done, and then again one year later as well. I did find that when I looked at the racial groups—so people that were interviewed that were black or Hispanic or Asian or Muslim—that the students who did The Voices Project, they have their attitudes towards racism decrease significantly compared to students from a different semester who didnt do [Voices].

She said results she got from classes who did interviews for the study and those who did not were both fascinating and a little disheartening because students who did not conduct interviews experienced little effect.

“That means when I teach a typical Intro to Psych class, even though I talk about stereotypes and prejudice, that it doesn’t actually teach us attitudes that it doesn’t really go there. It doesn’t go to where I want to be. I think [the study results] are very exciting on one hand, but on the other hand it is very humbling. I think it speaks to the fact that learning is not just a process where students sit at a desk and professors talk in class.”