California State University, Long Beach
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Podcasts Let Homeless Vets, Others Record Their Stories

Published: January 14, 2011

Podcasts on topics as varied as homeless veterans, the experience of a butler from south central Los Angeles and how two young men grew up just blocks apart only to achieve different destinies become tools in the classroom of Communication Studies’ Aaron Cargile.

Cargile’s own site

“Every semester my students in intercultural studies go out into the community with the goal of collecting underrepresented voices,” said Cargile, who joined the university in 1996. “We have all kinds of compelling, interesting stories.” The podcasts appear on the university’s iTunes website and Cargile’s own site.

One of the strengths of Cargile’s class is its location next door to the Long Beach Veterans Affairs medical center.

“We’re right next to the VA, yet our students don’t have that much contact with the veteran experience,” he explained. “A student podcast had been posted for a year when, in December 2010, I received a phone call from a campus veteran wanting to thank the students who produced it. It was important to him that other students took the time to listen to and then disseminate some veteran voices. The students, June Kaewsith and Jennifer Orellana, were more than glad to play a role in fostering dialogue and community.“

“The podcasts have been collected on the university website for several years,” said Cargile. “My goal is to have our students understand culture as tension. It is not one thing or another. There are always complicated decisions and almost always a struggle. The podcast that sticks with me was about two young men who grew up in the same neighborhood but ended up with one in and out of prison and the other graduating with a master’s degree from UCLA. In the podcast, they talk about their different experiences. The young man who attended UCLA explained how his parents kept him out of his own neighborhood as much as they could, yet there was a life literally down the block that he did not know about. Another student created a podcast about Rossmoor and its proposal for cityhood. When she talked to residents about what cityhood meant to them, she discovered underlying racial issues.”

As important as learning research skills are to graduate students, technological sophistication is fast becoming important, too. “I train my students in technology before I issue them with voice recorders,” he explained. “We edit the podcasts on Apple software and I want to thank the College of Education for opening their lab to us.”

Cargile believes new media technology is especially useful in creating an ongoing community. “The idea is to use podcasts to create a space where people can share their stories,” he said. “For example, it is one way to disseminate information about the ongoing struggle against racism. When we tried to create an e-community years ago using e-mails, it was hard to maintain. So I invited those participants to join a Facebook group called Intercultural Allies, founded in order to promote support and understanding of cultural variability.”

Cargile created the Facebook page in anticipation of his first sabbatical which, if approved, would begin next spring spring. “My goal is to write a freely available intercultural e-textbook,” he said. “I want to take our curriculum and put it together in such a way that it could be adapted to new technologies. There is a lot that CSULB could offer students worldwide. This new media technology allows faculty members to link directly with their students. Facebook users could link directly to an e-textbook.”

Aaron Cargile Portrait
Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cargile
Communication Studies’ Aaron Cargile

Even today’s media-savvy students can be overawed by modern technology. “For some students, producing a podcast can mean a lot of handholding,” he said. “Plus, after being on campus 14 years, I find that students not only have technological misunderstandings but cultural ones. If you make cultural references to today’s students, the references had better not be more than a few years old or you’ll need to explain. In education, you have to keep up with headlines as well as the technology.”

Cargile also taps into classroom technology such as Apple’s Keynote presentation software to deliver his lecture on the persistence of social inequity titled “Race in the U.S.: How Far We Have Come and How Far We Have to Go.” Cargile travels the country with technology in hand to explain how the problems of race are still with us.

“The idea behind the lecture is that we are familiar with racial progress over the last 45 years in the U.S., especially in light of the election of President Obama. But what many in the mainstream do not understand is our lack of progress in many areas,” he said. “For example, research indicates that the U.S. prison system creates second-class citizenship based on race. But facts are not the key to understanding; the key is to present the facts as a story with the help of technology. It’s one thing to talk about the racial disparities, it’s another thing to see the photos of all these men exonerated based on DNA evidence while listening to Bruce Springsteen’s ’41 Shots’.”

Cargile is pleased to perform his research in Long Beach. “It makes a difference knowing that as many of our students at CSULB can relate to the stories they hear,” he said. “They often have experience outside the dominant culture and they know there is more than one way to look at things.”

Cargile earned his bachelor’s at UC Santa Barbara in 1990, his master’s at Purdue in 1992 and his Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara in 1996.

Cargile encourages other CSULB faculty members to learn more about classroom technology. “I want other faculty members to understand they don’t need to know everything about technology in order to use it,” she said. “When it comes to media technology, I’m as much a student as anybody. My advice to CSULB faculty members is when you have an idea about using technology, have the courage to make mistakes and go for it!”