2001 Student-Faculty Fellows: Elmira College

India: Individual Projects

Mentor: James A. Cook, Art and Art History
Students: Jennifer Jeanne Dennis ’01; Juliet Kristen Marion ’01; Kelly Renee Monk ’01


Mr. Nehru of Community Seva Center with Prof. Cook, Juliet Marion at village school.

Abstracts of Reflections and/or Research

James A. Cook

Our Research group consisted of three graduating seniors who worked on individual projects, and myself. Our original plan to be in Nepal was partially derailed and made somewhat more complicated by the tragic events in the Royal Palace, which resulted in the deaths of the Royal family. The ensuing short-lived political instability compelled our group to delay going to Nepal. I was very impressed by the focus and ingenuity of the students under these less than ideal circumstances.They worked industriously and creatively to redesign their individual research ideas for viability in South India. Once there, the vacuum of unfamiliarity quickly filled with a connectedness borne of the students’ efforts and the numerous helpful responses of the Indians. Our research in Nepal was more fluid, because two of the students had traveled there with me a year earlier, and all three had spent months developing contacts and strategies for their work. It was very stimulating for me to observe the different approaches taken by each student to resolve problems in pursuit of research. Thanks to the intrinsic involvement of the research process, I am certain that each student was immersed in the culture in ways which will be enriching for the rest of their lives. At the end of each day stories were shared– dealing with battered women who had found hope through the autonomy and skills fostered by a dedicated core of women organizers; the exhiliration of a full-moon festival at the numerous chaityas and temples in Lalitpur; finding the best tasting food in a small local restaurant with no signage; new friendships made that day. Although I spent considerable time working with one or more of the students during the day, particularly in the first week or so, I feel that I was able to accrue much needed documentation for my video projects, writing, and academic courses. This fellowship is generous to both faculty and students in terms of the potential for research and cultural immersion.

Jenn Dennis with young women at skills center in South India

Jenn Dennis
A Photographic Portrait of Indian Women in Mammalapuram and Swamimalai

I learned a great deal about the conditions of women in both India and Nepal. Working with the Community Seva Center in Pondicherry, we gained a most informative look at women in villages. We were able to interact and observe these women, gathering details about what it means to be a woman and some of the challenges women face. In some instances, I was witness to the patriarchal society I had read about in books. The same applied to the families with whom I worked in Nepal. I was often aware of the male-dominated nature of the household, which at times was difficult to comprehend given the freedom I am granted in my own society. The most significant thing I learned, however, is that women are very accepting of their household situation, whether it is positive or negative, and would would be reluctant to make changes based solely on their own needs. I want to examine these issues in a compilation book of women in India and Nepal that will combine images and text, and will profile the significance of their lives. I am also building a website with my research partner, Juliet Maron, that will represent the Community Seva Center in India. We are hoping that the website will generate more awareness in the programs provided by the center, and to increase funding which will raise the standard of living in the eight villages the center represents.

Juliet Marion
The Plight of Older Indian Women who have no Family Support

As this was my first experience overseas, it is really hard to describe it as a whole. There is no way to really communicate the sense of being in the small communities and villages, seeing first hand the culture in a way that cannot be experienced through reading or by looking at images. Working with the Community Seva Center in India and with the organizations working against trafficking in Nepal opened my eyes to different situations that people have to deal with each day, things I never thought about. I have a new view of the world and a wonderful experience to look back upon.

Kelly Monk
Study of Effects of Air Pollution on Temples in Tamil Nadu

I profoundly realized how much I take for granted here in the US. Now, as I type in an air-conditioned room, staring at a 19-inch monitor, illuminated by halogen lamps, I remember sweltering under mosquito nets in a room dimly lit by candle light because the electricity failed. The hospitality and friendliness of so many people we met in India far surpassed any I had ever been accustomed to. Upon learning of my research, numerous strangers went out of their way to help me in any way they could. I found many more individuals in Nepal eager and happy to aid in my research endeavors, and could not have completed the studies so thoroughly without the help of several amazing people. It was heart-wrenching to witness the confusion, rage, and sadness felt by so many Nepalese individuals in the aftermath of their royal tragedy.

Though I am still awaiting some key data, it is obvious that the air in Lalitpur’s Durbar Square was of higher quality than Kathmandu’s based on gaseous concentrations. Soot analysis will prove if temples in Lalitpur are less affected by pollution, though my hypothesis predicts that they are. Several individuals in Nepal, including researchers at ICIMOD, cultural preservationists in the Department of Archeology, and committee members of conservation groups will receive my completed report and have told me it will be useful to stop the flow of traffic through Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. In the interest of scientific exchange, researchers at ICIMOD will use my data as I will use theirs: as a supplement and to validate accuracy of our respective findings.

The research in Southern India also yielded a pronounced difference in air quality, in order from most pollutants to least: Tiruvanamalai, Pondicherry, and Mammalapuram. Not surprisingly, this trend correlates with the distance from the city’s temple to the Bay of Bengal, and therefore coastal breeze. Soot analysis will further substantiate these results. Findings from both areas, once finalized in proper form, may be submitted to journals that focus on airborne pollutants and/or cultural preservation.