The students in ANTH 289, “Ritual, Health, and Healing” stepped outside the Wesleyan campus this spring to participate in a service learning project in the North Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint.
According to Assistant Professor of Anthropology Gillian Goslinga—who co-taught the course with Artist-in-Residence Jill Sigman, a North Brooklyn-based performance artist—Greenpoint is a neighborhood facing multiple health, social and environmental challenges. The students in this Creative Campus anthropology course, which is cross-listed with Science in Society and Dance, had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of community organizations, each dedicated to addressing a different issue. This is the first time Goslinga and Sigman have taught the course, which covers topics such as shamanic ritual and traditional medicine, as well as community health and social and environmental justice, and tackles questions of the efficacy of ritual and the traditional ritual/modern medicine dichotomy. The course also has a weekly movement lab, led by Jill Sigman, where students use choreographed movements to explore course concepts.
The service learning project in Greenpoint grew out of Sigman’s artistic work. A multi-media artist and choreographer, Sigman had been commissioned to create the seventh hut in her “Hut Project” by the Arts@Renaissance unit of St. Nicks Alliance, a community organization that works on affordable housing issues in North Brooklyn. For her Hut Project, Sigman builds sculptures, dwellings and stages out of repurposed and found materials, which then become sites for performance and community discussions on the critical issues of garbage, environment and housing. Goslinga says, “The tie-in with the themes of the course was obvious.”
“One of my goals for the course had been to invite students to query default biomedical framings of health and healing, where individual biology tends to be over-privileged even in epidemiological studies, and to broaden thinking about causalities for suffering, extending these to social, historical and environmental traumas, where suffering can also be about loss and shock, forced displacement and discriminatory policy decisions, structural poverty and environmental degradation (often all are related),” she says. “In these contexts, community ritual can be a restorative response.”