Once funding was in place, Biklen and her graduate students and staff scoured library and museum archives across the country to identify the most engaging and provocative first-person accounts of discrimination in education.

At the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley, they discovered a woman’s journal that shed light on the tragic circumstances faced by Japanese Americans during World War II. The Japanese American woman wrote of horrible, degrading conditions in the concentration camps she and her family were detained in under the executive order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She documented her despair and anger with gripping journal entries that leave the reader more sensitive to how discrimination, the struggle for equality, and diversity issues throughout history have affected not only specific groups, but also individuals within those groups.

While at Duke University in North Carolina, Biklen’s students and staff collected material from a project called "Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South." Amid the material was a 1994 interview from a black teacher, now in her 80s, and her husband, a former principal of an African American school. The couple described life in Wilcox County, Alabama, and the difficulties they encountered. "In the first place, we didn’t get any money for supplies, teaching aids, and things like that. It was a matter of unlocking it and giving you the keys, there’s the school," the husband said in the interview. "You had to find your money. The state of Alabama gave you permission to collect a fee from the students, but they didn’t collect it and you couldn’t force a student to pay it."

The group’s final fact-finding mission will be a trip to the Hampton Institute in Virginia to collect first-person accounts of Native American experiences. "We’ll review material on the Carlisle School, a major United States Indian boarding school," Biklen says. "We’re interested in accounts, for example, of the haircutting that the Native American students had to undergo to look more European. We’ll also look at other strategies the school used to Europeanize its students."

The original documents from their research are being scanned into a computer and burned onto CDs, and will eventually supplement curricula in nine courses. "The project has been exciting and stimulating for both students and faculty," Biklen says. "I believe you can’t understand life until you study the relationships between the experiences of individual people and the larger social events of their time."

Another Vision Fund project allowed the Department of Sociology to establish its Research and Innovative Learning Center. "The idea was to provide better research and experiential opportunities for students, especially undergraduates, by linking them with local community organizations and projects," says Professor Gary Spencer, chair of the sociology department. "These organizations often are in dire need of more legs and hands. By pitching in, the students enhanced their practical skills and empirical knowledge while directly benefiting Syracuse communities."

The project began unofficially in January 1999 with Syracuse in the 20th Century, a special topics seminar for sociology majors taught by Professor Arthur Paris, the project leader. Presentations by guest speakers included an overview of significant political and economic issues for greater Syracuse; an examination of the local labor market and current trends; and a report on refugee populations relocating to Central New York and the cultural adjustments and problems their young people face. Following these presentations, students selected topics and investigated social service areas in the community where they could do fieldwork. "This course broadened students’ knowledge of local issues and raised questions for further research," Paris says. "It also gave them field experience, and deepened their understanding of how such research tools as qualitative and quantitative methods can be used in the real world."

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