Graham Shares Her Experience, Knowledge Around The World

At a party this summer in Chester, Connecticut, a high school student proclaimed to the group his knowledge of Africa by claiming that all South Africans are white. His speech then reached its peak when he went on to declare, “The capital of Africa is Ghana.” Unbeknownst to this young man, he was sharing the room with junior Aubrey Graham, who is passionate about Africa and recently just returned from a six-week research project in South Africa. “I flipped out,” said Graham. “I tried to explain to him that Africa is a continent, with over 50 countries, and thus it didn’t have a capital, but he was adamant. I also told him that I was just in South Africa and it’s definitely not all white. It just showed the level of ignorance that pervades about this place.”Graham also credits some of her knowledge to her participation in the 2003 Colgate Extended Study trip to South Africa. “I constantly wanted to go exploring and simply talk to those who live there and experience daily life in situations very different than those that I have been raised in,” Graham said. “In order to do that, I had to go back, and on my own.” But first, Graham had to write a proposal and get funding approved by Colgate. Writing an anthropological proposal proved anything but easy for Graham. “The writing process was frustrating and time consuming,” she said. “It was painful, to be blunt. I often felt like I was wasting extreme amounts of energy-treading water and not really getting anywhere.” Fortunately, Graham received lots of help along the way. “I probably spoke with half of the faculty of the university before I even had a semblance of an idea as to how I was supposed to write a proposal,” she said.Professor of Anthropology Mary Moran, who also acts as Graham’s project and academic advisor, proved especially key. “I read drafts of Aubrey’s proposal, worked through revisions with her and wrote a letter of support for her proposal,” Moran said.All of their work paid off. In mid-April, Graham learned that her proposal had been accepted. Moran indicates the magnitude of this achievement.”The proposals have to be well-crafted, able to be done in the amount of time available and the competition can be fierce,” she said. “Social Sciences usually gets about 30 proposals and can fund about five or maybe six.” After receiving $3,750 funding, Graham departed for South Africa on May 12, landing in Johannesburg. She stayed there for three days, adjusting to the new environment. Then she was off to Mamelodi Township for three weeks. Next, Graham went to Nongoma for two weeks. She then traveled to Cape Town for a few days and then up the Garden Route, stopping at Storms River, Jeffrey’s Bay, Port Elizabeth and retuning to Johannesburg.Surprisingly, Graham found herself feeling most comfortable around the poor black populations. “I was in continuous shock at the hospitality and good will I received while in the black townships and rural areas,” Graham said. “Call it strange, but because my research pulled me into those areas to live, I immediately acclimated to the situation.”While staying in these various areas, Graham conducted her research. “In those locations, I was living with random local families and going to school with their children in order to find out if education is capable of raising such students out of a life filled with the problems of poverty,” Graham said. Graham relied heavily on participant observation to acquire her data. “By living with families, I had a direct observational route into their lives,” she said. “By going to school and just generally hanging out with the students, I was allowed to observe their lifestyle while taking action in it. I was by no means a constant fly on the wall.” Graham also taped interviews and constantly collected physical evidence that would either support or refute her research. She even shot 24 rolls of film, in order to use images for her project.Graham’s research led to many troubling discovers.”The unfortunate thing is that even with an attempt at a stellar education in both Mamelodi and Nongoma, the likelihood that the student will ‘make it’ by western standards is not promising,” she said. “Fifty percent unemployment dampers most hopes, while the problems of AIDS, passive parenting, uninspired teaching, hungry and tired students who have trouble concentrating, crime, violence and peer pressure all combine to strip away chances at improving living situations.”Yet, despite all of these factors, Graham insists there is hope. “Hope can be found in individuals and in the teachers who truly want to make a difference,” said Graham. “For now, the situation is not good, but it is also not hopeless. South Africans see their country as young and continue to press for change daily. They expect that improvements will come with time and many are taking active roles in bringing them to fruition.”Now that Graham has returned the United States, she has several post-South Africa goals in mind. In addition to wanting to raise money for Soup for School and get her research published in undergraduate Anthropology journals, Graham also wants to educate others. “At home and wherever possible, I am trying to hold meetings and lectures about my experiences in order to educate a western population about the realities and hardships in South Africa,” she said. “And hopefully rid them of some damaging stereotypes in the process.” When Graham is not working on projects related to her African interests, she takes photographs for the Colgate Department of Communications, acts as the Program Manager of the COVE’s Soup for School project, volunteers for the Utica Refugee tutoring, and captains Colgate’s Equestrian team.After graduating from Colgate with Sociology and Anthropology major (comprising classes from both departments), Graham has high hopes. “There are a lot of options right now,” Graham said. “If I am lucky enough, I would like to continue similar research through either a Fullbright or Watson fellowship. Also, I’m interested in the Peace Corps, as well as simply volunteering in refugee situations across Africa. Another option is to take my photography and run with it.”