Challenging Expectations and Other Lessons from Doing Human-Based Research

It has been a whirlwind past could of weeks. After my trip to Washington, D.C. to conduct two interviews, I went to a conference for one of my organizations on campus, which gave me plenty of travel time to work on transcripts. I am also preparing to go up to D.C. again tomorrow (Tuesday) to conduct another interview.

Regarding my interviews in D.C., I went through quite a process to organize the trip and relied on the great kindness of several friend who either agreed to house me or to drive me around. Both interviews went well, but definitely different than how I expected. For the first D.C. interview, I went to McLean and interviewed someone who identified as bisexual, but mostly for the sake of making it easier to explain to others. Because this person did not define themselves very strongly in terms of their sexual orientation, some of the questions I am used to asking did not have as detailed an answer as they do with other interviewees. Therefore, I adjusted my direction with my questions to focus on aspects of this person’s life that they mentioned were more important to them, such as their involvement in acapella and other performance-based activities. While now that I have had time to process that experience and have listened back to the audio, at the time I felt very self-conscious about the interview, mostly for concern that the interviewee might have come away not feeling good about the experience or their story, which would be the worst thing for me personally to cause. I learned from this interview to not set so many expectations for my interviews and to be willing to get outside my comfort zone when it comes to interviewing people by conducting the interview on their terms, not mine. My second D.C. interview also did not go quite as I planned. While I thoroughly enjoyed talking to this person and learned a lot from what they said, they had to take a couple of long phone calls during the interview and also had to leave early. I’ll admit I was disappointed in how short the interview ended up being, but I understand that these people are taking time out of their busy lives to talk to me and must accept when their lives take priority over talking to me. Besides, the second interviewee agreed to talk to me another time, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to ask more of my questions later.

I have also continued working on transcripts, of which I have finished three. Working on the transcripts has allowed me to more fully process and understand my interviews, in addition to helping me learn how I can interview/ask questions in the most effective way. I’m moving as quickly as I can through my fourth transcript and am getting help from another individual on the LGBTIQ Project team to help me finish my fifth.

Furthermore, I am thoroughly excited to conduct my sixth interview tomorrow with Richael Faithful (they/them/theirs), who lives in D.C. and works as folk healer and “spiritual activist.” Their work especially relies on conjure, a Black traditional practice. Richael aims to promote healing across time and space, especially in the black American community, who has experienced pain and wounds throughout American history. They have been flexible and helpful during this process of organizing a time and place to do the interview, and I hope that Richael will be able to provide helpful insight into the experience of queer people of color at William & Mary. Richael’s will probably be one of the last interviews I conduct for the summer, because I start training for my Residence Life position on Friday. After that, I will mostly be working on transcripts and hopefully honing in on what I have learned from this important and meaningful experience doing these oral histories.

 


To learn more about Richael Faithful’s work, please visit http://www.richaelfaithful.com.

 

Comments

  1. Hey Sarah,

    I’m late reading your blog posts but it reminded me of something relating to my research. I’m partially studying the formation of identity and historical narratives, which Bertrand Van Ruymbeke and Randy J. Sparks write on in their book Memory and Identity. In it, they describe how one’s perception of a historical event or timeframe will change due to their later experiences, but also when they are exposed to other points of view and accounts. Were you able to interview anyone who might have known other interviewees, either in school or afterwards? It might be tricky to pin down, but do you think any of them changed their view over the last couple of decades from when they were students?
    Good luck with the transcriptions and the interview!

  2. lailadrury says:

    This is such an amazing project! Your focus on queer history is so creative, and so necessary to explore. I appreciate that you are giving a voice to such a marginalized community, and allowing those that are often silenced to share their stories. Your insight on the pros and cons of conducting human research is also very valuable, and something that I’m sure you will continue to apply in your academic endeavors to come. I’m very excited to learn about your final product!