Who benefits from economic development, growth, and technology? Who bears the burdens?
This summer, 12 students from the College of the Holy Cross spent a month exploring these social justice concerns in Bangalore, India’s third largest and most developed city, through Maymester, the College’s summer study abroad program.
From Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, Sikh gurdwaras, and Catholic churches to the headquarters of Microsoft Research, Google, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard, Bangalore was the ideal city for students to encounter, first-hand, the impact of urbanization on a city of more than 8 million people, 70 percent of whom live on less than two dollars a day.
“Bangalore is a major tech-hub, often referred to as India’s ‘Silicon Valley,’ and one of fastest growing cities in the country,” says Constance Royden, professor of computer science and co-leader of the Maymester. “In part, this Maymester explored the influence technology is having on spurring this growth in a city that does not have the resources to support it.”
Students spent the first half of the Maymester, titled “Social Justice in Context,” learning about Indian society and culture — everything from gender issues and the caste system to the digital divide and civic action — through daily seminars led by invited speakers from Bangalore as well as visits to cultural landmarks and NGOs.
The ability to directly experience what you’re studying makes all the difference, according to Matthew Eggemeier, associate professor of religious studies who led the Maymester along with Royden.
Students share earrings with local women during visit to Pannur. Photo by Constance Royden
“I have found that encounter, immersion, and dialogue are much more effective at deepening students’ sense of responsibility and solidarity with others than ideas or concepts,” Eggemeier shares. “With that being said, what is unique about this Maymester is that it combines a rigorous social analysis that examines the systemic causes of injustice in the seminar with sustained exposure to the lived reality of the people of Bangalore.”
The latter half of the course offered students even more direct interaction.
The group traveled ten hours to rural Manvi where they visited a community of Dalits (“oppressed” in Sanskrit), formerly known as untouchables in India. They were met with overwhelming hospitality and learned about the different social realities present in the country, many of which were a result of three years of extreme drought.
“The drought has made food, water, and employment scarce, and prompted migration to urban areas like Bangalore,” says Marie Therese Kane ’18, an international studies major who attended the Maymester. “Images of empty valleys that used to channel rivers and individuals trying to plow life out of barren fields are haunting images of climate change, a new reality that India is not fully prepared to respond to.”
Back in Bangalore, each student participated in a two-week internship with organizations that worked to support various disenfranchised members of the community including individuals affected by leprosy and HIV/AIDS; women who have experienced domestic abuse; burn victims; and quarry workers who need medical attention and child care.
Adeline Gutierrez Nunez ’19 learns about candle-making during her internship at Sumanahali, a rehabilitation center that works with individuals affected by leprosy and HIV/AIDS in Bangalore. Photo by Constance Royden
“The internship was an essential part of the Maymester as it allowed us to take what we learned from the first two weeks in Bangalore during lectures and from listening to guest speakers, and put this knowledge into action,” says computer science major Hanna Ballantine ’19. “The internship, most importantly, provided us with a focus.”
Kevin Finn ’19, a mathematics major with a statistics minor and a peace and conflict studies concentration, interned at Janastu, an organization that provides open source software solutions and support to small non-profits, seeing technology as an opportunity to benefit all members of society.
“It seemed like the firm’s work was an attempt to give poorer people a chance to compete in a globalized world where the rich have more advantages every day and the poor continue to fall behind,” shared Finn, a member of the Naval Science (NROTC) program at the College. “We have a long way to go but there is a chance technology can help bridge the global wealth divide.”
Now back in the U.S., the students are already recognizing the impact the Maymester had on them, finding its way into research theses, career options post-graduation, and discussions with friends.
“I know that many of us were weary of forming ‘takeaways,’ or tidy answers to the big questions that this experience has raised; namely, what it means to live in a world that holds both the privilege of our reality as Holy Cross students and the relative poverty of much of India,” shares Kane. “However, Professor Eggemeier and Professor Royden encouraged us to ‘live the questions,’ meaning, to make what we do with our lives the answers to the struggles that we encountered in India.”
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