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Abstract

Bridgewater State University undergraduate Introduction to Folklore students, overwhelmingly young and white, with little to no experience with folklore, found a voice to honor and highlight liberatory and social justice-oriented protest folklore in and around the world and in their own experiences. Students in the fall 2020 Introduction to Folklore classes were confronted in life-altering ways with a global pandemic that endangered them and their loved ones and shone a light on hideous health inequities. The relentless killings of black people stripped away any illusions that systemic racism and white supremacy were not daily, ever-present forces. At the same time, Bridgewater State University was making purposeful and intentional efforts to being a social justice university. These factors seem to have led to a transformation of consciousness on the part of many white students, as they moved toward a critical consciousness that is so necessary for ensuring a responsible and accountable citizenry.

Social protest folklore is a vehicle for focusing justified political anger and outrage toward the sources of oppression. Protest folklore has existed, and is ongoing, among people of all historic times and geographical spaces in order to reveal a society’s injustices, brutality, and oppressions, while expressing the struggle for justice, compassion, dignity, and human rights.

The social protest texts contributed by Introduction to Folklore students as part of a course assignment represent accusations against a toxic culture and its multiple oppressions. The folklore texts stand for the demystification of all that has been normalized, including gender-based violence, racial oppression, social injustice, denial of human rights. The folklore texts students explored represent a variety of folklore genres including visual art and craft, performance art, spoken word, poetry, song, music, chants, slogans, gestures, and signs. The process of investigating and sharing social protest folklore allowed students a chance to reach for authentic engagement with social suffering, voices of protest, and their own developing critical consciousness.

Note on the Author

Elise M. Brenner, PhD (she/her) teaches in the Department of Anthropology at Bridgewater State University and in the Departments of Public Health and Sociology at Simmons University in Boston, MA. Brenner is an elder (as defined by the WHO) cisgender white woman who loves exploring and researching what creates, promotes, and protects human and planetary health. The central aim Brenner reaches for these days is journeying together with her undergraduate students to inspire mutual growth and the development of new eyes with which to envision and take action for repairing our world. When Brenner is not doing research and teaching, she spends time on her inner and outer fitness through meditation, social connection, exercise, and community-based action.

*Student Contributors:

Gabe Alexander, Katelyn Amaral, Cynthia Barba, Fiona Bell, Taylor Deas, Alicia Delaney, Andrew Disher, Keshori Ellis, Desiree Fisette, Peter Harmon, Elizabeth Higgins, Ayla Jette, Emerson Kerns, Sean Lavalee, Jaylen Louis, Will Milgre, Kristten Nicholson, Charles Pacheco, Mimi Phan, Kaleigh Roche, Emma Shanley, Jill Sims, Jessica Sullivan, Lynne Turner, Maia Williams, Charles Yoder, Harrison Zamilus.

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