Feature Story

Expanding the Borders of Knowledge and Understanding

December 14, 2015 – by Cole Hatcher

Jocelyne Muñoz shares information about the infrastructure and art of Ciudad Juarez that she studied in Spanish 360. The students created a website documenting their research, which is now a scholarly resource available worldwide. (Photo by Cole Hatcher)

Ohio Wesleyan Students Create Scholarly Website Examining Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez

Bullets and body counts. Feminicide and fear. These are elements of life in Ciudad Juárez, but they are not the essence of the U.S.-Mexico border town once considered one of the world’s most violent cities.

Ohio Wesleyan University students in Juan Armando Rojas Joo’s Spanish 360 class spent a semester learning about Ciudad Juárez, a community of 1.5 million people located just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. The students learned about the city’s violence, but also about the compelling art and poetry being created by its residents.

To share their newfound knowledge and appreciation of Ciudad Juárez, the students have created a digital liberal arts project – a website built with the support of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant administered by the Five Colleges of Ohio consortium. The students unveiled the site, “Ciudad Juárez Urban Art and Poetry,” at a recent campus presentation.

They describe their creation as “a spatial representation of artistic and poetic responses to violence, feminicide, and other cultural and social elements in the U.S./Mexico border region since the 1990s.” It features a map of the city populated with information about public landmarks, markets, industrial parks, and other geographic features represented in the poetry they studied in class.

As students learned about the infrastructure of Ciudad Juárez, they also learned about the city’s inhabitants by studying the works of 53 poets included in the anthology “Sangre mía / Blood of Mine,” compiled and edited by Rojas, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of Modern Foreign Languages, and by Jennifer Rathbun, Ph.D., an associate professor and chair of the Department of Foreign Languages at Ashland University.

During the site’s unveiling, Rojas told the crowd, “It’s the beginning of something amazing.”

He said he expects future classes of OWU students to add to the map and expand the scope of the project, which is now a scholarly resource available to anyone in the world.

Rojas, who was born in Ciudad Juárez, said he already has been contacted by professors from Skidmore College in Sarasota Springs, New York, and Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany, with one academic calling the new site “an amazing research and digital teaching tool.”

Miranda Dean ’16, an English and Spanish double major from Providence, Rhode Island, was one of the 10 OWU students working on the digital humanities project. Dean served as one of two student research assistants and called the project “a great learning experience for me.” She studied industrial parks in Ciudad Juárez, which expanded rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th century. Dean said the parks attracted lots of low-paid women workers who sometimes were stolen off the streets as they walked to work. Safety remains a serious issue in the area, she said.

Other OWU students who researched and created content for the “Ciudad Juárez Urban Art and Poetry” website are:

  • Jocelyne Muñoz ’17 of Nogales, Arizona, a microbiology and Spanish double-major. Muñoz also served as a student research assistant for the project.
  • Sophia Apostolou ’16 of Great Falls, Virginia, an international business and Spanish double major.
  • Milagros “Mili” Green ’16 of Asuncion, Paraguay, an English and international studies double major.
  • Dérian Palmerín ’19 of Acámbaro Guanajuato, México, a Spanish and international studies double major.
  • María Salazar Rodríguez ’17 of Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela, a pre-medical studies/pre-professional zoology double-major and chemistry minor.
  • Emma Sampson ’18 of Kent, Ohio, a Spanish and politics and government double-major.
  • Andrés Servín ’19 of San Francisco, California, a business administration major and Spanish minor.
  • Mary Smith ’16 of Delafield, Wisconsin, a health and human kinetics-exercise science major and Spanish minor.
  • Morgan Williams ’17 of Wilmington, Delaware, an international studies major and Spanish minor.

Recent graduate Makenna Huff ’15, a mathematics and religion double major now living and working in Westerville, Ohio, served as a post-graduate assistant on the project. Huff worked as an Omeka and Neatline software consultant, having helped to create another OWU digital humanities project, “Mapping the Martyrs,” during her senior year.

David Soliday, OWU’s instructional technologist, also provided technical support as the students worked to create the website. He said he envisions future work to incorporate imagery and video to contribute to the site’s richness and depth.

Learn more about Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of Modern Foreign Languages at www.owu.edu/mfl. Visit the digital liberal arts project, “Ciudad Juárez Urban Art and Poetry,” online at http://ciudadjuarezartandpoetry.org