Learning from Interviews

Greenhill’s Director of Marketing Kerry Shea writes about her recent visit to a history class during end-of-trimester presentations.

Walking into the African American Experience class this morning, I was surprised to find the lights off and all of the students watching a video. Art Hall, Greenhill’s Director of Equity and Inclusion, and the teacher of the class, had shared that the students were doing their final trimester presentations and that it was a great day to visit. Where was the student standing at the front of the room, I wondered. Where were the props, the poster, or the PowerPoint?

When I looked at the screen, I saw one of Greenhill’s faculty members talking about her experience as an African American woman, and I quickly realized that the video was the final project. She talked about her family history and her own stories from growing up. She freely shared her experiences and the class was riveted listening to her.

The next video was of another woman that had previously tutored the student, but now worked at Southern Methodist University. Her video, equally fascinating, was more painful to watch. Her discomfort with the subject matter was palpable: she left a large puffy jacket on for the entire interview, and continually shifted from having crossed arms to sliding her hands under her legs. Her responses were short, causing the student to ask multiple questions to extract her story. The video itself, a tall, narrow rectangle, showing not much more than the woman seated on a chair, felt cramped and uncomfortable.

At the end of both videos, the students and the teacher discussed them. What did they find interesting? What was surprising? One student was surprised that the teacher, who grew up as the only African American student in her class, didn’t identify with other African American girls when she switched to a high school with a larger African American population. The other student couldn’t believe that his tutor, a middle-class African American in her early 30s, never voted until the 2008 election.

Using the interview as a final project was powerful for the students. The students gained an in-depth knowledge of someone from their life, not only from the stories that they told, but from the way that they told the story. Watching all of the videos gave them a rich perspective of the similarities and the simultaneous diversity of experiences that occur among a group of people with similar skin color.

While the students are learning, so, too, is their teacher. “I teach, but I am also the school’s Director of Equity and Inclusion. This course reminds me that every experience is unique. Every person struggles, and we all look to one another for help as we try to heal wounds from the past,” he shared after class. A heartfelt conclusion at the end of a meaningful end-of-trimester project.