An Interview With Terry Brock

1. What led you to make the focus of your research St. Mary’s City? Was there anything unique about the history or archaeological data that made it well suited to your purposes?
I entered my PhD program at Michigan State University (MSU) with the intention of studying the African American past. I had taken courses on archaeology and African American history, and it became clear to me that the discipline of Archaeology offered a perfect opportunity to answer questions about a past that we knew little about. Coming from an undergraduate background in Classical Studies, I really liked the idea of being able to do research that directly connected to communities that existed in the United States. So, that was what I went to Grad school with the intention of doing. Spring of my first year of graduate school, I came to St. Mary’s County to visit my grandmother. A faculty member suggested I look up a certain archaeologist at this place called Historic St. Mary’s City, because he had gotten his PhD from MSU. When I arrived, my Grandmother told me I needed to meet this archaeologist at Historic St. Mary’s City because he had been a friend of my grandfather’s. Turns out, they both meant Henry Miller. I visited Henry, and we had a great afternoon. A few weeks later, he introduced me to the 19th century data from HSMC, and offered it to me for my dissertation. I’ve been working in it ever since…and that was in 2007.
2. What made you decide to structure your research in the form of an online exhibit? What are some of the successes and challenges you’ve had with creating and maintaining All of Us Would Walk Together?
I’d wanted to do a digital exhibit about the research for a while, but had never had the financial support to do it. For quite a while I’ve been advocating that archaeologists use the web and social media as a means of engaging the public in archaeological research. For example, I use Twitter extensively when I am in the field to take pictures of our excavations and discuss what we’re finding with members of the public. It allows us to take them with us, in a way, and they can ask questions from their home or office. The digital exhibit was an expansion on this idea: it’s a way to make my research public and available. The blog, for example, includes posts about my research as I’m doing it. A lot of the time all you see is the final result, but I think it’s incredibly important for the public to know and understand how we came about that final result and how that result can change when we get new evidence. I wanted to create a space where that could happen. Where people could see the research unfold, ask questions about it, offer their opinions, and take part.
The most challenging thing has been updating it. It’s a lot of work, and I’m the only person working on that site. I built it all myself in one summer, and I’ve been doing all the maintenance, updating, and post writing. That takes a lot of time, and sometimes it is difficult to balance that with the actually process of writing the dissertation, along with my other responsibilities to my family, professional organization, and the other things we’re trying to do at HSMC, like turning the duplex quarter into an exhibit.
A lot of the successes have actually come within my own professional community: other archaeologists and public historians are curious about how the project was built, the approach I took, and how it works. So, in many ways the exhibit is a bit of an experiment, to see if this type of engagement works.

3. Your research blog illustrates a lot of your work with the duplex, both historical and physical archaeology, from examining the use of space both before and after emancipation, to how window glass represented an improvement in the quality of life. What do you think has been your most surprising find?

The window glass was actually very surprising. Not so much that there was glass, or that the data indicated that it was added immediately after the Civil War to the building. I expected to see that, since I figured it would be a relatively simple upgrade to a building. What I didn’t expect to see was the fact that the African Americans who lived their were using used windows salvaged from other buildings. While it makes sense afterwards, actually seeing it in the data was pretty neat. It adds another dimension to the situation: it highlights how they were looking to make improvements, looking to emphasize this newfound freedom, but also how financially difficult and straining this was for them. Remember: these people were working up from practically nothing. This is a theme that I see in other places, too. For example, the pursuit of education after the War. We knew that Brome, the former slaveowner, had donated land to become an African American school. This was actually not as surprising as it sounds… a lot of wealthy planters did this. Part of it was to provide a good reason for their former slaves to stick around as sharecroppers: they knew they wanted schools, so they offered to provide land for that to happen. The school, by the way, is where St. James Deli is now. At any rate, I located some documents from the Freedman’s Bureau that talk about the exuberance of the African American community in St. Mary’s County for supporting these schools. Black carpenters donated their time to build them. The meetings held by the Bureau officials were packed. When the community was told that the Bureau could no longer pay for teachers, they raised the money right then and there: an amazing feat considering these are the same people who are salvaging windows to fix up their homes. It really brings home the sense of urgency for education and freedom that existed. You could just tell that these people had been waiting for this moment, and weren’t going to let it slip away.

4. You emphasize that the blog is meant to be interactive. In the ‘Talk Together’ section of pages you even include questions for consideration. How has reader comments and feedback been so far? Has there been any particularly interesting discussion?

Yes. The goal was for the site to be interactive, and providing comment fields on the blogs and all the exhibit pages was one way I had hoped this would happen. Unfortunately, it has not worked. Part of this is related to meager traffic to the site. It has not been advertised as well as I’d had hoped. For example, we received funds from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to build the site, and were told it would be featured on their page. That hasn’t happened. HSMC’s own website is in the process of getting a major upgrade, so it hasn’t been featured as much there, either. But trust me: I am on the other side of the website waiting for people to interact and ask questions.
We do have more success on Twitter, where you can follow the exhibit @WalkTogethr. People are more inclined to interact with us there, which is great. We can also do live tweeting from the lab, events, or the archives. So, we get more engagement there.
5. We’ve heard some talk that this year work might begin on turning the duplex into an exhibit site. Do you know anything about whether or not they’re moving forward with the project?
We received funding from the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture to begin the preservation and interpretation of the Duplex Quarter. Part of the process of getting that money released is to get our plans for the exhibit and preservation work approved, which has required us to put together a report. This is taking some time for us to complete for a number of reasons, but we are starting to work on it this month. Part of our biggest motivation for completing the project is that we have been working with descendants of the Milburn family. The Milburn’s lived in the building from the 1920s through the 1960s. We have done oral histories with Emma Hall, who grew up there, and who used to work at the College, and will be working with her and other members of the family on all the steps of the interpretation, since it was their home for so long. It is our hope that we will be able to not only interpret the period of enslavement and the post-War period, but also celebrate their occupation of the building during the 20th century. So, long answer short: yes, we are moving forward with the project. We just have to make sure that all the hoops are jumped through before we can start.

Mexican Standoff: Plaza Azteca vs. Plaza Tolteca

With all of the chains and local dives dotting Point Lookout Road, it’s hard for an eatery to distinguish itself in Lexington Park. I decided to investigate two restaurants who don’t seem to be trying to be unique at all, Plaza Azteca and Plaza Tolteca, to see if their food would set them apart more than their names do. The overwhelming winner was Plaza Azteca, whose better prices, food, atmosphere, and overall quality of the experience vastly eclipsed Plaza Tolteca.

Plaza Azteca:

After being greeted by the friendly staff and the encouraging site of a homemade tortilla press, my companion and I were seated and helped promptly by a server. The atmosphere was casual and fun, with a rustic Mexican design. The menu was huge, extensive, and reasonably priced for a college budget with lots of pictures. We took our time deciding over  fresh chips with a mild salsa that probably wouldn’t have the heat desired by any spice seekers, and a $3 margarita that, according to my friend, tasted like it was mostly tequila. To start, we ordered an appetizer called Pollo Gratinado that arrived on a sizzling skillet, and I could have eaten it as a meal. The dish consisted of grilled chicken that was incredibly tender and topped with onions and a creamy Mexican cheese mixture that made our chips disappear quickly, only to be replaced immediately by our attentive waitress. Our food came shortly after, steaming and smelling delicious. My Pork Belly Tacos were slightly dry, but flavorful and topped with fresh ingredients. My friend’s Burrito Cochinita Pibil was incredible and stuffed with tender, slow-roasted pork. Although we wanted to finish everything on the table, we had to resign to defeat and leave full to bursting and satisfied with our experience. The whole meal was less than $15, and a great alternative to waiting in line at Chipotle.

Plaza Tolteca:

Our rather large party of 6 was seated at Plaza Tolteca in record time, but it took a while for everyone to get drinks and menus. The service was friendly for the most part, but ridiculously slow considering we were sitting in a nearly empty restaurant. The chips were of the same quality as Plaza Azteca, but were served with a white sauce that tasted kind of like a Mexican Caesar dressing, as well as salsa that was spicier, but not as fresh as the competitor. We also ordered guacamole that arrived in a huge tureen that was chunky and flavorful.  Tolteca’s menu was not as extensive and pricy for a casual Mexican restaurant. Always the deal hunter, I went with a combination plate that gives the diner a choice of two from a variety of options for around $10. The food took its time to arrive, and may or may not have been worth the wait, depending on who you talked to. My burrito was unappetizing; the chicken inside was dry and it was topped with a red sauce that could have been found in an Italian restaurant, but my quesadilla was crispy, tender, and delicious. The table agreed that the rice that was served alongside was the true star of the evening, surprisingly enjoyable. One person got a Coronarita, a huge margarita with a mini bottle of Corona sticking out of the top, that got her very tipsy by the end of the meal, but was more than double the price of Azteca’s margarita. The meal came to be almost $20, which could be justified if the food was worth the wait, the price, and the food poisoning that some of the party got as a bonus.

'The Container' Opens the Lid on Immigration

“The Container,” a play by Clare Bayley, is the first production of the  year for the TFMS Department (Theater, Film, and Media Studies). The play follows five immigrants from Africa and the Middle East who are travelling in a shipping container on the back of a truck to be smuggled into England. These immigrants don’t know if they can trust each other or the man that is helping them into England, referred to only as “The Agent.” This intense and unique play will captivate the audience from the beginning.

TFMS professor, Michael Ellis Tolaydo and junior Madaline Barry are co-directing The Container. The play only features six characters and can only be performed for 25 audience members at a time so the play is double-casted. Two casts allows for more student involvement and allows for more shows.
The first cast consists of Allegra Grant as Fatima, Joe Lignelli as Ahmad, Emily Maginnis as Miriam, Jazzie O. Gray as Asha, and Christopher Joyce as “The Agent.” The other cast for the play features Ebony Squire as Fatima, Liz Porter as Ahmad, Layla Tamer as Asha, Abby Doyle as Miriam, Jemarc-Van  Axinto as Jemal, and Gilligan as “The Agent.”

First year, Emily Maginnis who plays the character Miriam, says that this is “only second drama I’ve ever been in, and since the audience is so up close and personal it makes the experience so real. It’s so intimate which makes the experience terrifying but also incredibly exciting. You can truly become the character instead of just acting as the character.”
Sophomore Abby Doyle, Maginnis’ counterpart in the second cast, applauds the efforts of the entire cast and crew. She says that the play “touches on some very serious topics and [she] wants to make sure [she] honors those who have been affected in real life through the actions of Mariam.” The entire cast conveys excitement about the approaching show.

Junior Allegra Grant, who plays the character of Fatima, encourages the campus community to see The Container. She says “This play is so interesting and deals with problems that many people want to ignore, particularly in regards to illegal immigration and general human rights.”

Also involved with this production are the stage manager, Hannah Sturum, and her two assistant stage managers; Christopher Gore and Genevive Dubroof. Dubroof says that “this is an incredible play and the characters and extremely deep.” When asked about the success watching the two casts, Dubroof says that “both casts do an incredible job at mastering the layers of the characters and creating intense emotions that focus the play.” She also says she couldn’t be happier to be a member of this production.

The show is to be preformed Oct. 24-27 and Oct. 31-Nov. 3. There will be two shows on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7pm and 9pm and only one show on Sundays at 2pm. Both casts will perform each Thursday, Friday and Saturday and the casts alternate on each of the Sundays.

The play will take place at the Bruce Davis Theater in Montgomery Hall. At the time of printing, all shows are sold out. To reserve a spot on the waiting list, call 240-895-4243 or email

We Are What We Eat: Exploring Food Week

From October 20th to 24th, during a time known as St. Mary’s Food Week, the campus community is invited to take a deeper look into where our food comes from and how it has been processed. This year marks the first time St. Mary’s has celebrated National Food Day, a campaign for “healthy, affordable, and sustainably-produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies,” according to the organizations website.

The various events include a talk on the 21st by Brett Grohsgal and Christine Bergmark about local agriculture and produce, and a documentary at 6pm on the 22nd designed to educate people on sustainable development of agrarian resources. On the 23rd, from 4-5pm Associate Professor of Anthropology Iris Ford will be speaking on the growing plight of migrant farm workers in America.

All this will, of course, culminate in the celebration of National Food Day at the Campus Center, an event advertised to have “…face painting…  free recipe cards, farmers market maps and seasonal buying guides, and [the opportunity to] take a picture with our produce mascots!” Later on in the day, from 5-7pm there will be a a cooking competition based on the Food Network program “Chopped” in which groups comprised of St. Mary’s students will compete using locally sourced food to create the best three-course meals they can.

The stated goal of Food Week is not to simply be an event for raising awareness of food sources; the goal is to encourage students to put into practice what they learn, whether it be through volunteering, buying locally-sourced produce, and brainstorming even more ways to make a difference in food sustainability.

Oyster Festival

On the weekend of Oct. 18, the Lexington Park Rotary Club hosted the 47th Annual St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival on the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds in Leonardtown. The festival featured a wide variety of activities ranging from puppet shows to belly dancers. The festival was a haven for people seeking good deals and local products. To name a few of the attractions, the Women’s Club of St. Mary’s County managed a hand craft and flea market out of the farm and garden building. The arts and crafts building was occupied by the St. Mary’s County Art Association, which featured for sale a wide variety of paintings, jewelry, and crafts produced by local artists.

Perhaps the biggest draw to the festival was the food. Numerous local businesses, such as Nick’s Gourmet Soups, Smokey Joe’s, and Sunshine Catering, operated stalls along the fairground’s main thoroughfare. Samples were given freely at most stalls and the food options themselves were quite affordable. Naturally, oysters featured quite prominently on the menu. At least half of the stalls on the fairground were selling raw, fried, grilled, scalded, or otherwise prepared oysters. Oyster sandwiches and soups were also readily available. On the subject of oysters, the festival is home to the National Oyster Shucking Championship Contest. This contest is widely regarded as one of the premier oyster shucking competitions in the world; a title that has more weight than you may initially expect; the winner of the competition will go to Ireland to compete in the international competition of oyster shucking.

Several bands and musical performances attended the festival. The St. Mary’s College Jazz Combo was one such performance. The band played for an hour and a half on Saturday and was, in the words of senior student Lisa Williams, “Fantastic!” An older, bearded gentleman, who preferred to not give his name said that the performance was “quite good, and certainly better than some professional acts I’ve seen.”

The bottom line is that the oyster festival is an excellent place to enjoy good food, local stuff, and public performances. The cover charge was five dollars.

Three Haunted House Horrors That You Will Find At Hallowgreens (and How to Avoid Them)

Oh, you kids today with your pagers and your emails and your annual overindulgent, inebriated, saturnalian benders. Of course I’m talking about Hallowgreens, our favorite pagan holiday of pounding back drink after drink as an act of self flagellation, in hopes that the gods will be pleased and help us to survive the dark half of the year (called ‘first semester finals’ in the modern colloquial). You long time readers may remember that I helped with compile ‘research’ for an article last year about the Hallowgreens experience of someone who totally was not me. The two of you might also recall that my findings were…disturbing. When I went back and reviewed my more thorough notes from last year I was able to make a startling comparison; Hallowgreens is pretty much a house of horrors. Not an actual house of horrors, like Hill House from that Shirley Jackson novel, or Hill House from down the road. More like a cheap ride at a crappy amusement park; you don’t enjoy if you’re not already into that kind of thing, it sucks without your friends, you’re constantly pushed up against people and you’re kind of freaked out. But enough of my pessimism. If my summers as a camp counselor taught me anything, it’s that being drunk outside at night is awesome! You just need to know how to avoid things that ruin your fun or get you locked out of your cabin in the middle of wolf country. So this, for your reading pleasure is seven ghoulish carnival attractions masquerading as real life that you may encounter on your Hallowgreen adventures.

1. The Crying Ghost

In a Haunted House: This haunting specter will appear before you deathly white and eyes circled with black will assail you without warning with its inhuman wails of torment and woe.

At Hallowgreens: This individual is most likely someone close to you. When you begin the night they will seem as happy and excited as anybody. Half an hour later you look over at them and suddenly their eyes are ringed with tear-stains and running mascara. They weren’t even wearing mascara before. Before you know it, they’re trying to create symbiosis between your lap and their face, and crying so hard you can’t even tell you what the problem is anymore. You’re just picking up snatches like ‘I just can’t believe that people are so mean to the government!’.

Survival: Chances are your buddy’s sudden mood swing might have something to do with how much they’ve had to drink. Lower inhibitions, heightened emotions, all that good stuff. That being said, if your friend’s in that bad an emotional state over little things, it’s probably last call for them. Make sure they make the switch to water, ask if they’re all right physically, then ask if they’d like to stay or if they’d like to go home. If they choose to go home, take ‘em. Hooray, you handled that problem classily! If they choose to stay, let ‘em, and make them comfortable. They’re allowed make that call, and you can bet your life the one thing they’re going to remember the next day is how you marched them out of somebody else’s house like a misbehaving child- and they won’t appreciate it. Ask a friend to help you keep an eye out until its time to go, so that you aren’t the only one keeping an out. All that being said, be kind to your friend, and be aware of their behavior. The reason they’re turn your sofa cushions into handkerchiefs may be more serious than you realize. If you feel like they’re in any sort of danger, trust your instincts and call Public Safety (240-895-4911)

2. Grabbing Hands

In a Haunted House: This is the part of the exhibit were those hands come from behind the curtain and touch your face, grab your ankles and cause your Uncle Bernard to trip and win a lawsuit against the carnival for $65,000. (That was our best family outing. The park gave us so many complimentary boardwalk fries)

At Hallowgreens: Have you ever noticed how much everybody loves each other at Hallowgreens? Oh my gosh, have you ever realized how much you love everyone too? Look, you’re in a group hug right now, and you didn’t even realize it! Being at Hallowgreens, you can expect hugs, kisses and the occasional foot massage from every which way, and sometimes from people you weren’t necessarily expecting. And trust me, when a 230 pound lacrosse player dressed as Magic Mike jumps on your back and asks for a piggyback ride, nobody gives you boardwalk fries.

Survival: You know, if there’s one night to just let your inhibitions go, this is probably it. So if you’re feeling it, why not hug that random stranger? Why not challenge

yourself to make out with every dude and lady that came dressed as ‘What Does the Fox Say?’? So if you do get some unexpected attention from somebody, ask yourself if this might actually be OK with you. Maybe you find that giant lacrosse player’s glittery…male g-string or…ding dong sling or whatever you call those things, oddly charming. If the answer is no however, that’s exactly what you say. If Hands Groper doesn’t back off, move away and loudly express your distaste with some colorful language and implied judo chopping. The point with that is, don’t be afraid to be rude and alert somebody else if you feel uncomfortable with the way someone’s treating you. It’s always harder for an offending party to target someone who puts up a fight. And if the problem persists, get somewhere you know you’ll be safe, and call Public Safety (240-895-4911).

3. The Jump-Out Monster

In a Haunted House: “Shoot, I was so busy enjoying this ballin’ haunted house that completely forgot to have a heart attack today! Oh, thank goodness, this headless man just jumped out a me in the dark without warning, or I might have gone my whole day without literally peeing my pants. And look! They’ve even included a commemorative photo of  me looking like I’m trying to unhinge my own jaw. How fine it shall look next to the family crest and the Venetian glassware.”


Survival: Grab the nearest whacking stick (just in case) alert your house mates and leave immediately. Then CALL PUBLIC SAFETY (240-895-4911). This ones a no-brainer, kiddies. But don’t let my tales of terror put you off. Hallowgreens, above all, is supposed to be fun. So eat, drink, and stay safe.



St. Mary's Students Participate in 'Powershift'

On the weekend of Oct. 18, 20 St. Mary’s students traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the annual Powershift Conference, previously held in Washington, D.C.

A conference based around environmental activism, Powershift’s primary goal is to encourage, train, and inspire the next generation of Americans to work towards a cleaner, greener tomorrow. Powershift’s name is a sort of play on words, as their goal is shifting power away from corporate destruction of the environment and to a new, eco-conscious youth movement, and a shift in priorities from fossil fuel use to a new, green future. According to the organization’s website, “catastrophic climate change threatens our future unlike any other generation;” thus, responding to that threat must be the goal of the millennial generation.

A self-described grassroots-driven community and activist forum, the movement sprung out of an online site,, but began holding regular conferences after gaining momentum. People from all walks of life went to the conference to attend over two hundred panels, workshops, and teachings designed around helping create a new generation of leaders. Among the key topics covered at this year’s conference are the Keystone Oil Pipeline, fracking, and mountaintop removal: each are urgent issues facing the millennial generation.

Many of the speakers at the conference, while relatively unknown outside of the environmental activism sphere, are considered a rockstar lineup within their circles, including Tom Steyer, the CEO of Next Generation Climate Action, and Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club.

Senior Ashok Chandwaney, a St. Mary’s senior and a panel speaker leading the “Who Needs Congress Anyways?” panel, says “You learn things and bring them back… [We] will be the ones alive to live with the consequences of climate disruption.” He greatly emphasizes the need for greater involvement and interest among the campus community.

In past years, Chandwaney says that Powershift has been a very empowering experience for aspirant leaders and those who want to effect positive change in the St. Mary’s Community. The student leaders of the 2012 Living Wage campaign were all former attendees, and they were trained and inspired by it. This year, they hope to bring back such experiences again, in the hopes of promoting further change on campus.

The Conference ends with a giant protest to “make our voices heard,” rallying the attendees around a specific cause, which this year will likely focus on the environmental damage caused by fracking, but the information is currently unreleased.

For information about or registration for next year’s Powershift conference in Pittsburg, check Powershift’s website ( periodically over the next year or sign up with the organizaion to get updates.

Leadership and Success: Sigma Alpha Pi

By Terrence Thrweatt

“Like a Boss!”

This was the phrase that seemed to take the campus and most of my Facebook newsfeed by storm much of last year. It seemed to be used by every one that considered themselves a leader or “boss” in some type of way. But, there’s a new organization on campus that allows students to fulfill their desire to be a boss (we actually consider it “grooming leadership”). In the interest of full disclosure: I have been a member of this organization for two years and currently sit on the Executive Board.

The National Society of Leadership and Success, otherwise known as Sigma Alpha Pi, was founded in 2001, by Gary Tuerack, with the purpose of creating leaders. The goal of the organization is to recruit and cultivate 21st century leadership skills in our members; as well as provide continued support for them for once they’re in the “real” world. Our chapter of Sigma Alpha Pi was founded 2012, by president Marche Pearson, who’s currently a senior with her sights on an MBA, specializing in Marketing.

This semester has been our most active. We have 200+ students in every class signed up for the organization. Some are even studying abroad while actively participating. So, what’s the point of this article? The chapter’s leadership has been flooded with emails and concerns, most of them are due to lack of knowledge about the group in general. Below are just two, but if there are any more, feel free to email me at

When does the chapter meet?

The chapter meets almost every Tuesday and Thursday from 7 to 8 pm, in St. Mary’s Hall. We realize some people cannot make it, so we have re-cap sessions on Fridays in the Library at 3 pm. All meetings last no more than an hour and a half.

I’m already a boss, so how can it help me?

Sigma Alpha Pi can help you via our networking and development sessions. We organize students into groups that have the same common interests as them. We also have many speakers from off campus that do podcasts with our organization.


Current Student Jennifer Walker Named as College's New Sustainability Fellow

After two years of being cut from the College’s roster, the position of Sustainability Fellow has been reinstated within the Office of Planning and Facilities. Jennifer “JJ” Walker, a senior, was named the new Sustainability Fellow on Wednesday, Oct. 16 in an all-student e-mail sent out by Dan Branigan, Director of Design and Construction. After her anticipated graduation this coming December, Walker will work in this position as a full-time St. Mary’s employee.

As the Sustainability Fellow, Walker will be a communication liaison for environmental issues at the College between students and the Office of Planning and Facilities, plan and implement sustainable projects to fit the St. Mary’s agenda of becoming a “green” school, and work with the SGA (Student Government Association) on projects using GSMRF funds (Green St. Mary’s Revolving Fund). The GSMRF finances any on-campus projects that will aim to reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint of the College, and absorbs any money saved as a result of the implementation of such projects.

Walker is looking forward to beginning her duties as Sustainability Fellow and working on green initiatives for the College. “My personal goals are to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus running into the St. Mary’s River as a result of the College, as well as keeping the compost program functional and profitable,” she said.

The involvement of the student body in realizing sustainable goals for the College is of the utmost importance to Walker, who will attend SGA and SEAC (Student Environmental Action Coalition) meetings, as well as conduct a student survey to gauge what kinds of projects the campus community will support.

To contact Walker about any environmental concerns relating to St. Mary’s policies, e-mail her at

Taylor Krauss: Voices of Rwanda

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, Taylor Krauss, journalist and filmmaker, came to St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) as part of the 18th Annual Holocaust and Genocide Colloquium that was introduced by Assistant Professor of French Elizabeth Applegate. He began with talking about our campus and how the pond reminded him of something a Tutsi woman, who had survived the 1994 Genocide, had said about swimming in a lake with all her friends. Krauss started an organization called Voices of Rwanda around 2006 that filmed and preserved first-hand accounts of Rwandans who wanted to tell their stories.

This organization allows Rwandans to tell their oral histories while allowing them to start and end wherever they want to. Before beginning to talk about what these testimonies mean and what it means to be a rescapé (a Kinyarwanda word meaning “one who escapes”), Krauss showed a 35-minute film that included three people’s testimonies. As the journalist pointed out, these testimonies went on for as long as the interviewee felt it should and most went on for upwards of eight hours.

During the 35 minutes, rescapés recounted childhood memories, songs, family history, and the war. As Jessica Blofsky, a sophomore, said about the lecture, “The intimacy of the interviews were striking and you feel like you were there.” While the Rwandan genocide is an extremely difficult topic for various reasons, having the testimonies of real people who lived through it is an amazing opportunity to learn about what was really going on while never forgetting the terrible atrocity that occurred less than twenty years ago. In one testimony, an interviewee said, “I think the reason I have the strength to talk is if I die without telling my story here, my lineage will be sniffed out.”

First-year Robert Shafer said about the talk, “[It was] interesting. It taught me details about the genocide I did not know and gave me context.” During the talk, Krauss reiterated the simple importance of just sitting and listening to the testimonies that Voices for Rwanda has preserved, both to “tell the rest of the world” and to make sure their voices are heard. He also talked about the evolution of his approach to documenting Rwandan voices, from being a passionate just-out-of-college filmmaker who wanted to make a film and move on, to making the transition to preserving and archiving all the stories he and his team could.

In viewing these testimonies, there are five considerations that Taylor Krauss wants people to think about beforehand. One of these is linguistics-based. Because the testimonies are spoken in the Kinyarwanda language, there are subtitles in English that do not capture the multi-layered nature of the language and sometimes are imprecise in the word choice.  Anytime you translate something into another language, you are essentially translating it in to a different culture, because in different cultures, different meanings are emphasized.

Cultural consideration is the second point, in which the context behind the language is just as important; if one has a cultural understanding behind the language, he or she will understand so much more. The example that was used for this was the simile “like a tree” in Kinyarwanda. One of the rescapés likened a man who was being tortured to a tree and the cultural context behind this comparison made her words even more powerful.

Historical and biographical considerations are also important when approaching these testimonies because one gets to know the person, as well as gain a deeper understanding of what was going on at the time. The final consideration was audio-visual, in the importance of the visual presentation of the witness the gravitas of using silence as an audio effect. The most striking part of the videos was how raw and emotional the interviews were.

It seemed that all that separated someone and the speaker is a screen, and all one has to do is reach out. Political Science major and sophomore Alexandra Calambokidis thought that “[hearing] the testimonies about their experiences and not so much the recovery” was the most powerful part of the lecture. While the 1994 Rwandan Genocide is a tragic event that still scars the East African country, the Voices of Rwanda organization makes sure their voices will not be silenced and the experiences they had will be preserved for the present and the future.