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Audio Transcript: Research Me-search – Kellen Sharp

My name is Kellen Sharp and I am a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My major is Communication Arts: Radio, TV, and Film and African Americans Studies with a certificate in Digital Studies. I’m a FasTrack Scholar, CeO Scholar, and McNair Scholar. I have aspirations of being a professor in Media and Cultural Studies.

This year for the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program I was an assistant at the Center for Ethics and Education. The center’s mission is, quote, “to foster and support work that brings the tools and perspectives of contemporary moral and political philosophy to bear on concrete problems that arise in addressing problems of education practice and policy” i.e. the center focuses on the ethics of educational practice and theory through a philosophical lens.

As a research assistant, I worked on their Multimedia Curriculum Project, an initiative that aims to compile interviews taken by the center with philosophy and education professors into study guides on the respective professor’s topic of interest. The intended audience of this project are policymakers, educators, and students but the study guides are made public anyone interested in education can enjoy a listen. Each interview is edited down and imposed onto InDesign framework where the audio is then coupled with pedagogical questions relating to the topic as well as suggested further readings and in-class activities.

I worked under Harry Brighouse, a professor of Philosophy and affiliate professor of Education Policy Studies and more intimately with my mentor and director of the center Carrie Welsh. Additionally, there was a graduate assistant named Abby and undergraduate assistant named Grace who both tackled the pedagogical “curriculum” components of the project” while as an assistant my role was to spearhead the multimedia portion.

When I was initially assigned to edit audio and work with InDesign files I felt very impersonal about the process. I was a com arts major working in philosophy. There wasn’t much I could practically gain from this experience besides the technical skills. How wrong I was, my experience here was much more transformational than I ever could’ve anticipated. I primarily worked on three pieces combining the creative work of audio editing with the research of each professor.

The first piece I worked on was an interview done with Anthony Jack, an assistant professor of Education at Harvard. He spoke on his book “The Privileged Poor”. Now in editing audio I would start off by listening to the whole piece through. If there was no template provided I would take note of the key conversational themes ensuring I had timestamps at the most salient points. I would then decide which 15 minutes of the audio was most conducive of getting the general idea across without sounding too long winded.

Hearing this took multiple listens and a familiarity with the content. I would have to then use my cutting tool to remove the excess audio and smooth the rest out. I would make sure that all audio levels were balanced and did my best to remove any artifacts. When the voice track was cleaned I would interweave non-diegetic music into the piece for a more natural experience.

Afterwards I would transcribe the audio and turn in the transcript and audio on dropbox. This is to say my process in editing was very meticulous and I became very familiar with the pieces. Anthony Jack’s piece is where I worked out all the kinks of editing and would have a quality precedent set for the year. In the countless hours I spent listening to the audio, what I never expected is that I’d learn something applicable to my life.

He talked about the privileged poor which is, well let me let him explain it.

“These students, The Privileged Poor, lower income students who go to private high schools, they go to schools that costs 50 to $55,000 a year, for high school, right? These are people who, their teachers are PhDs. They study abroad in high school. It sounds like a very different experience than what you would think and lower income students who go to public schools, those who I call the Double Disadvantaged, are economically poor, but they also go to schools that are disadvantaged in a number of different ways, especially compared to their private school peers. And so I highlight this overlooked diversity among lower income students to show not only where they go to high school, but how those experiences in high school drastically shaped their experiences in college. The Privileged Poor are used to wealth, used to whites, used to interacting with faculty members. The Double Disadvantaged, especially those who are Black and Latinx, are not.”

After about the 10th combover I realized what Anthony Jack had described was my reality. That I was a privileged poor. While I didn’t go to any private schools I did go to a college preparatory public school that offered Full International Baccalaureate programming. I was streamlined to college, though no Ivy League, but top in the world institutions nonetheless. I never considered my upbringing privileged in any regards. I admit I see the difference now between minorities who went to one school versus another and their college performance.

Anthony Jack gave me a language to describe my academic journey and my advantage in the system. I understood the rigor it would take to pass college courses, my IB courses and their subsequent exams were meant to emulate that difficulty. Talking to professors was easy because student teacher conferences were encouraged in the programming. Moreover, being a minority in upper level classes was a tune I was singing long before UW Madison. Transitioning from a neighborhood school into an institution like Madison would be exceptionally harder in my opinion.

The second piece I spent time with was an interview done with Jen Morton, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, on her book: Moving up without losing your way– the ethical costs of social mobility. By this time I had attended my first academic conference with the center. It was November and I had gotten extremely comfortable with the idea of research and creative work. Initially joining URS, I was nervous because I was interested in the social sciences and humanities and all my ACT Prep ever no showed me in the science section were hard science excerpts. My impression of “real” research is that it was quantitative and closer tied to logos than pathos.

My experience at the North American Association of Philosophy and Education conference, aka NAAPE, showed me that research was more diverse and creative than I imagined. There were breakout groups talking debating education in prison reform and others lectures ethical intersections too many to recall. As an aspiring professor this event was key in glimpsing the semiotic practices of the upper echelons in academia.

Jen Morton’s piece revolved around the concept of “strivers” which she describes as:

“Students who often come from low income backgrounds or for the first in their families to go to college or are the children of immigrants. And they really see going to CUNY as the path to a better life for themselves and their parents have to a middle-class professional life.”

She dives into the balancing act of being this marginalized identity and juggling the responsibilities of your past with the prospects of your future. She defines ethical costs:

“I call the kind of sacrifice as a student like Sandra makes, ethical costs. So what I mean by that is that strivers are sacrificing in areas of their lives that are meaningful and valuable to them. So their relationships to their families, to their friends, and through their communities. And these are areas that for most of us are really important to how we see our lives, how we see the meaning in our lives, how we think of ourselves. They’re very tied up to central aspects of our identity and for strivers those relationships are often on the line when they’re on the path of what we’re mobility.”

Again, I could relate. I remember first semester freshman year receiving my first refund check and debating how much money I should send home for bills versus how much I should save, not to mention pay my own bills with. It was a hard decision. And when things became tough this year between going to class and making sure my estate was okay I had to make those hard choices and assignments came in late.

Jen Morton articulated the struggles that even someone who was a privileged poor like myself faced on my path towards upward mobility. I was striving for an education for liberation. A concept I’d soon familiarize myself with at NAAPE. It was the second day of the conference and I was now ready to dive into the philosophy of the Multimedia Curriculum Project. It was my turn to conduct an interview.

Carrie familiarized me with the roster of professors in attendance at NAAPE of interest to the center. I choose to interview Quentin Wheeler-Bell, an assistant professor of philosophy and education at Indiana University-Bloomington. In preparation I researched Quenten’s work and wrote out questions I would ask him. We brought portable microphones and were ready-uped for our encounter.

Recording and asking questions in the interview was much different than editing. I was able to control the flow of the dialogue and self-edit a script in my head which made for a lot less detours in conversation leading to better flow construction in the post. We talked for an hour and a half and related on a small scale: He was black and from a background where his parents pushed him to be educated. He was a McNair scholar, which at the time I was in the process of applying for. He sought out higher education and became a professor which is my ultimate goal.

I saw myself, or at least what I could be in him. In our discussion we talked about education for liberation. In the words of Quentin:

“So when I think of education for liberation, I think about what does it mean for people who are living under conditions of oppression and what do they need to know to be able to not only navigate inside of those conditions, but ultimately transform them, right? So it’s also about who the press, where and why. So context really does matter.”

I’m marveled at this philosophical notion that education was a way to free oneself. Like we all know that, but like to hear it said this way was different. We went on to talk about the importance of ethnic studies classes. You know, what do those look like at HBCU is what it feels like at PWI. Who’s responsible for teaching our community, ourselves or the government? We talked about Neo capitalism and that effect in the black community, I was intrigued in the African American studies really jumped out to me and I felt really comfortable talking to a professor at face level.

It was this philosophical notion that education was a way to free oneself. We went on to talk about the importance of ethnic studies classes and neocapitalism’s effects on the Black community. The conversation was fascinating and the more we talked about education for liberation the more I realized that is what I’ve been seeking all along.

In joining URS, in applying for McNair and striving to become a professor I was trying to liberate myself with the knowledge of the world. I wouldn’t realize how all these pieces fit together until after editing Quentin and listening to them all back. Anthony Jack gave me a language to articulate where I’ve come from in the Privileged Poor, Jen Morton gave me vocabulary to answer why I still struggle the way I do despite these privileges, and Quentin assured me that this journey through college has an endgame and that these experiences are transformative in liberating oneself.

And now I shape my own voice in the same fashion I constructed their stories. I wonder what I have to say.