Understanding Curricula in a Time of Global Crisis

I am Nelson Felipe Castañeda, a second-year Hispanic Languages and Literatures Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh. I am from Bogota, Colombia, and I moved to Pittsburgh after living in Seoul, South Korea, for approximately six years, where I pursued my M.A. and worked as a Spanish teacher in different universities in Seoul.

Since my Bachelor’s degree in the Teaching of Modern Languages, which I pursued at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia, I have carried a deep desire to further understand how new global forms of sovereignty in neoliberal states structure the logic of knowledge, create relationships of power, govern bodies, and produce life and death. This research interest has been accentuated by my personal experience at international airports in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. As a passionate traveler and transnational student, from a very young age, I have had immigration agents examine every article of clothing in my suitcase, scan my body, and even look at my cell phone photos in an attempt to determine if I was “dangerous.” Treated like a criminal, I have had to repeatedly go through humiliating processes due to my nationality (Colombian being taken as a sign for drug dealer) and presumed ethnicity based on skin color and facial features (Middle Eastern appearance equated to terrorist). Exposed to racial and xenophobic judgments about my body while living abroad, I have felt compelled to explore how the production of racialized differences and national identities are discursive strategies mediated by a global capitalistic system.

Here at the University of Pittsburgh, I am concentrating my research in three main areas: biopolitics, queer studies and film, and performance and media studies. Following theoretical notions concerning images, the gaze, knowledge-power relations, nationalism, sexuality and gender, terrorism, bodies, corporealities, and material and visual representations of violence, I am taking courses that allow me to build a bridge between Asia and Latin-America and understand how suffering bodies coming from the Global South (wrongly called the Third World) negotiate dissident identities and discursive practices that subvert the mechanisms of the sovereignty of hegemonic powers.  

Under the frame of the Humanities Engage Summer Immersive program, I worked as a research assistant with RefocusED. This nonprofit organization engages in cutting-edge research relating to the development and the redefinition of education practices, curriculum, and programs to foster and cultivate healthier and safer learning and teaching environments. This summer, the organization worked with Voices against Violence, the first and foremost anti-violence community-oriented organization in Pittsburgh. This organization is a pioneer in programs ranging from street intervention and restorative justice to summer camps and creative school-based workforce development. Due to my academic and personal background, I was moved by the work RefocusED and Voices against Violence have done and are relentlessly continuing to undertake in a tremendous effort to enhance the social, affective, and human conditions of the young populations and adolescents who live and suffer from violence in their communities and family environments.

My research was carried out in three different stages. First, I surveyed what previous research has said about how children’s emotional development is affected by social settings that are similar or equivalent to a quarantine. The data I gathered helped me formulate some opening questions about emotional and affective issues children might be going through during these challenging times.  Next, I focused on how interaction with nature improves and fosters children’s emotional development. This was relevant given that the Voices against Violence Summer Camp, unlike in previous years, would not be able to host its participants in open environments. I explored how urban planning segregates specific communities and limits access to green spaces and safe recreation areas, which are vital for the healthy psycho-affective development of children. Finally, I turned to the literature to find best practices on how to formulate an effective action program to enhance the living conditions of the young people impacted by violence. Sadly, not much has been published that addresses this concern. I ended the summer with the presentation of my research. Still, I am eager to see how, from all of the questions and data I collected and discussed, the RefocusED team implements an action plan to alleviate discriminatory practices that existed before the pandemic context, but with the arrival of COVID-19 have doubly affected racialized and segregated communities and, in particular, the psycho-affective development of children and young people.

At the end of this experience, I returned to a new semester at the university full of questions regarding the biopolitics behind this current social crisis. In reading the large number of studies I did, it was striking how race crosses all domains of social and private life. Unfortunately, race seems to be a vital factor in the formulation of public policies that determine one’s positioning within a symbolic order, which decides which lives are worth living and which ones are not. I firmly believe this experience was a pivotal element in strengthening my research interests in biopolitics and the different gears and power structures utilized in our societies to manage the production of life and death. With this immersive fellowship, I also consolidated my skills in creating research questions, observational tools, and data registration that will be useful for future field research modalities. These skills are significant practical takeaways I leave this excellent immersion program with.  

I strongly encourage all my colleagues who are hesitant to take this fantastic journey to try it out. The Humanities Engage Immersive Summer Fellowship is an invaluable experience where you can practice all that you have learned in class. Furthermore, you can find new answers to questions you might be grappling with or find an assortment of new questions that can guide your research. If I had one wish, I would ask for more time so that I could keep working with this project, because I believe that its final outcomes will generate a significant impact in lives of many children, which is priceless.

Felipe Castañeda
Hispanic Languages and Literatures
October 14, 2020

Learn about all the Summer 2020 Immersive Fellows and their experiences with their host organizations.