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May 6, 2010

YUM: a taste of immigrant city

Project PERIS (Partnering for Economic Recovery Impact through Service) is an ambitious and rather complicated initiative of Tufts and our partners in Somerville, MA--funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The idea is to go beyond episodic and uncoordinated "community service" to achieve substantial impact. The project combines research, consultation, planning, and hands-on service as a real partnership between a university and community agencies and nonprofits.

In concrete terms, the main elements of the project are a set of courses (3-4 per semester) that are co-taught by Tufts faculty and community leaders. Each course undertakes some combination of research and service. The "connective tissue" among the courses is a series of planning and reflection meetings that include participants from across Tufts and Somerville.

In one class that I've been tangentially involved with, Professor Jennifer Burtner and her students helped plan and launch a project that supports 13 immigrant-owned restaurants in Somerville. Their major service is the Yum! discount card. They have also studied and documented the participating restaurants, producing graphic art, ethnographic essays, professional-quality photographs, videos, posters, and A-frame billboards. Some of their material is collected on their class blog.

The ethnographic essays are particularly interesting because they look--superficially--like restaurant reviews. But the perspective is different. These are not assessments meant for consumers; they are descriptions of small institutions in their social context.

Overall, PERIS is producing a mass of high-quality information and culture, which may turn out to be its biggest contribution--especially if we can find ways to pull that material together.

May 6, 2010 2:25 PM | category: none



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