Students Learn From Indigenous and Refugee Communities – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Students Learn From Indigenous and Refugee Communities

Students in two of Assistant Professor of German Area Studies and Media and Society Ashwin Manthripragada’s classes explored the worlds of local Indigenous and refugee cultures recently with a field trip that took them to Mary’s Place Refugee Outreach and The Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan State Historic Site. The 25 students in Manthripragada’s “Narratives of Displacement” and “Intermediate German” classes benefitted from learning about upstate New York’s Indigenous cultures.

“German Studies has a lot to do with Indigenous studies,” says Manthripragada, noting the Homestead Acts of the 19th century. “German studies in the United States, especially, must confront its stake in the ongoing settler-colonial project from which it has historically and continues to benefit.”

“German and European settlement in the United States, especially in the 19th century, profited greatly off the Homestead Acts, which sustained the erasure of Indigenous life,” says Manthripragada. “Furthermore, by learning about Indigenous history from the Indigenous perspective, students of German are asked to discern divergent concepts of Indigeneity at a time when neo-Nazi ethno-nationalists in German-speaking Europe understand themselves as the “natives” of Europe.”

For Caleb Austin ’22, the trips gave him an opportunity to focus on connections throughout the world, both in German-speaking areas and in regions with Indigenous populations. “Professor Manthripragada, through these trips, compels us to imagine a deeply interconnected and interrelated world—both within history and in our contemporary world,” he says.

During the visit to Mary’s Place, the students engaged in service work organizing toys and packing boxes for a toy drive, and listened to Director Charlsey Bickett discuss ways that the organization provides assistance to refugees from many nations in Rochester.

Being able to learn about indigenous life from that point of view is valuable in modern times, too, when neo-Nazi ethno-nationalists in German-speaking Europe have “…[laid] exclusionary claim to space in line with a “blood and soil” ideology,” Manthripragada says.

Austin says that he has gained an expanded understanding of German area studies by connecting issues of statelessness and migration globally and within the U.S. to the same issues faced within Germany and Europe in general. “These are universal issues that have monumental political ramifications globally,” he says.