Our life experiences not only define us but they can also connect us to people in our community or even people on the other side of the world. Alum and current Antioch professor, Jocelyn Robinson joins guest host Lauren Instenes to discuss how preserving the stories of the past and those of people today can unite communities and educate the world. Jocelyn, is a radio producer, educator, and oral historian, who is working with the radio station WYSO to document the stories of a local community in Dayton, Ohio, and is also running a project to preserve archival radio content at Historically Black Colleges & Universities.
Visit Antioch’s website to learn more about Antioch’s Online Undergraduate programs that Jocelyn teaches in.
Joceyln’s piece titled The Flag created for The Big Ponder is available at this link.
The West Dayton Stories project can be found at this link and WYSO also plays clips of the interviews live on air.
This episode was recorded March 17th, 2022 via Riverside.fm and released April 13t, 2022.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University.
The Seed Field Podcast’s host is Jasper Nighthawk, and its editor is Lauren Instenes. Special thanks for this episode goes to Karen Hamilton and Melinda Garland for their contributions.
To access a full transcript and find more information about this and other episodes, visit theseedfield.org. To get updates and be notified about future episodes, follow Antioch University on Facebook.
Formerly a federal Department of Education grant administrator at a Historically Black College/University in southwest Ohio, she also teaches at the college level. Her courses blend literature, film studies, African American studies, women’s studies, and other disciplines to provide students with challenging educational experiences that are relevant to their daily lived experiences. She incorporates critical cultural theory and her research interests in self-definition and identity into these offerings and is adept at guiding diverse student populations through discussions of difference—and commonality. In addition, she is a skilled writing coach who assists essay writers in finding and expressing their authentic voices.
An accomplished musician, gardener, equestrian, and social justice activist who has been engaged in the life of her community for over 50 years, she is also a public radio producer. She served as 91.3 FM WYSO’s first Archives Fellow, creating short documentary pieces that aired from 2014-2017, using the station’s historical audio as source material. She is currently engaged in exploring partnerships and opportunities for at-risk audio collections and is a member of the African American and Civil Rights Caucus of the Radio Preservation Task Force, an initiative of the Recorded Sound Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.
[00:00:03] Lauren Instenes: Welcome to the Seed Field Podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity.
I’m your guest host today, Lauren Instenes. I’m going to be taking over the duties of our usual host Jasper Nighthawk. Who’s actually joining me in the studio today to have a little conversation.
[00:00:31] Jasper Nighthawk: Thank you for inviting me to help introduce your interview. I’m really excited about it. Especially, it’s fun to have you on the other side of the microphone, Lauren. You normally are in the studios, but in a role that people don’t hear specifically. You’re our editor and producer, and you work your magic behind the scenes, but today you got to go on the other side of the microphone and actually be the interviewer. Can you tell me who you interviewed?
[00:00:56] Lauren: Yes, It was a great conversation. I got to talk with Jocelyn Robinson, who is a former alum and actually a current Antioch professor.
[00:01:04] Jasper: I remember when we booked Jocelyn onto the show. I was excited because I got to help edit a profile that we ran of her in the 2020 Antioch Alumni Magazine. It specifically delved into the archival work she’d done digging through the radio station, WYSO in Yellow Springs, which was started by Antioch students and was long affiliated with the university. She had pulled up just the most fascinating archival audio and was using it and sharing it in the 21st century.
[00:01:36] Lauren: I love that article as well and we actually got to jump off of that article. We talked a little bit about that work but focused to this interview a lot on her oral history work and the project she’s doing in Dayton with WYSO collecting these oral histories specifically a big project called West Dayton Stories.
[00:01:55] Jasper: That’s super cool and seems perfect because Lauren– didn’t you yourself get a– aren’t you an oral historian and you have a master’s degree in oral history?
[00:02:03] Lauren: I do, yes. It was just really exciting for me to get to have this conversation with her and talk about all the cool projects she’s running and get to listen to a lot of the amazing stories that are coming out of those.
[00:02:17] Jasper: I love your enthusiasm there. Let’s roll the tape and jump right in.
[00:02:31] Lauren: I’m Lauren Instenes, and I will be your guest host for this episode. Today I’m very excited to interview Jocelyn Robinson. She’s an alum and a current Antioch professor and a radio producer, and also an oral historian. Oral history for those who don’t know is the process of interviewing living people about their life experiences so that it can be documented and preserved. Between Jocelyn’s radio work and her work with archived audio and her oral history work, there are almost too many things that I am excited to talk with her about today.
Jocelyn Robinson holds a master’s in cultural studies with a concentration in race, gender, and identity from Antioch. She currently teaches in our online undergraduate program. At Antioch, Jocelyn became interested in oral history and after graduating, she began working in radio. She has been a producer at WYSO a radio station in Yellow Springs, Ohio since 2013. In her work there, she has led community projects and produced shows, including Rediscovered Radio, Community Voices, and West Dayton Stories.
She’s also a member of the African-American and Civil Rights Radio Caucus of the Radio Preservation Task Force at the Library of Congress. She’s currently working on a project to survey the archival holdings of radio stations at HBCUs, historically black colleges, and universities. Jocelyn describes herself as an educator, a media producer, and a radio preservationist. I’m so excited to talk with her more about her work today. Welcome to the Seed Field Podcast, Jocelyn.
[00:04:03] Jocelyn Robinson: Thanks for having me, Lauren. I’m happy to be here.
[00:04:06] Lauren: To start off our conversation, because our listeners can only hear our voices, I wanted to take a moment to disclose our own positions in this conversation. We do this every episode, and I think it’s especially important today. Since we’ll be talking a lot in this conversation about whose voices stereotypically get heard and how we listen to those voices, especially within a society that has strategically tried to silence certain communities.
I would like our listeners to know that I am a white cis-gendered woman. I don’t identify as disabled or chronically ill. I’m queer but I hold a lot of privilege in there as well as I’m then presenting. On an economic level, I grew up in the middle class in a home in Wisconsin and have always had a stable housing and income situation. Jocelyn, can you let our listeners know as much as you’re comfortable with where you’re coming from in this conversation?
[00:04:58] Jocelyn: Certainly. In fact, my positionality informs my work pretty directly. I am what some might term a mixed-race woman. My father is African-American. My mother is white and from Liverpool, England, and that multicultural, multiracial upbringing. I’m oldest of six. I live in this small town. I’m a cis-gendered woman, I don’t identify as differently-abled, or I also have a good deal of privilege having been raised in a household that was pretty solidly lower middle class, but I’m the oldest of six.
At this point in my life, I am in my late 60s. That is a positionality that I think is an often-overlooked- Age as an often overlooked position. That does inform my work quite a bit, having the long view from here to the distant past.
[00:06:03] Lauren: Yes, I totally agree that it definitely has a big impact on positionality, and thank you so much for telling all of us that. I will jump right into the questions and I want to talk first about your work getting into radio. After your studies at Antioch, you really started getting involved with radio production and with WYSO. I want to give listeners a little bit of a background on WYSO. It actually was a student-run radio station at Antioch in the 1950s and onward. It has a lot of really fascinating recordings in its archives, which you graciously share with us on Rediscovered Radio.
One of those most famous speeches amongst these recordings is a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. that he gave at an Antioch commencement ceremony. There are also great recordings of conversations with people like Cezar Chavez, Flo Kennedy, and so many more. The work that you do is centered on sharing these restore tapes with the public through short edited pieces on WYSO. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about why radio, why was it a good medium for you to be able to tell these types of stories that you were interested in sharing?
[00:07:16] Jocelyn: Well, it really was a happy accident. I didn’t intend to become a radio producer in my late 50s, but I had completed a master’s degree in cultural studies as you mentioned, and focused on self-definition and identity as my main topic. That was underpinned by a real focus on qualitative research and narrative practice and bringing to the forefront lived experiences theory. I did a lot of interviews and encouraged women to tell their stories through that work. Actually, after I finished that project, I worked at a historically black college for eight years.
Within that time, I was thinking about doing a project about my family and about our multiracial reality, and about how that shifts and changes and identity shifts and changes over generations over time. Particularly when people of color marry people who are white and their offspring marry people who are white. As time goes on, that racial identity changes. I got talked into taking the Community Voices production course at WYSO.
When I created my first piece, my first assignment, I was bitten by the bug to make audio, to make media. The educator part of me had been there all along, but I shifted a lot of my teaching to working with folks to learn, to make radio.
[00:09:07] Lauren: Yeah, that’s incredible. The work that you’ve been producing is amazing and educational, I think in its own right as well. I was listening to, also you work with WYSO, but you’re also an independent producer. You’ve been producing independent pieces and I was just listening to your piece about the flag. It’s so funny because I was like, I knew exactly which flag you were talking about. I went to school near where Jocelyn lives and there’s this huge flag that you can see from the interstate. I’ve always been like, “Why is it there? Why is it big? What is it about?”
Your piece goes into that, but also into what the flag stands for why do we use it in all these different ways. Then comparing it to Germany as well, and their relationship to their flag. These pieces just seem like a great opportunity and a great medium to share these types of in-depth pieces of knowledge that you might not get anywhere else. I was just wondering if you want to talk at all about how you’re using these pieces to get into the weeds of topics and issues that you might not get to expand on somewhere else.
[00:10:21] Jocelyn: Well, that particular piece was created for a podcast that really is examining abstract ideas and that’s been a blast. I’ve done several pieces for the project and I’m working on one right now about the emotion grief. It’s been just amazing to be able to take a topic and dive into it. Really explore it through these projects, that I’ve been given a lot of freedom as a producer to do that and that’s been pretty remarkable. The editorial influence of the presenting organization is really about diving in and exploring. Not being dictated to as a maker and a creator. That’s been really exciting.
[00:11:15] Lauren: That’s great. I want to go back a little bit to how this work with the archives at WYSO has informed your current work. One of your big projects right now is working with HBCU campuses to survey and preserve their archival holdings of their radio stations at these schools. You’re going to start traveling to those soon, I’ve been told. Can you share a little bit about what your hopes for this type of work is?
[00:11:44] Jocelyn: I think one of the driving forces for me is to fill in the gaps where the voices that have been unheard exist. One of the things that I hope to do with this project is to help nurture an ethos of preservation at HBCU radio stations. Build a model for small college and community-based radio stations. To really understand the value and importance of their materials and the programming that they’ve produced within and for their communities.
I’m really excited about getting back on the road, I’ve visited a fair number of stations during the first phase of this project, which was funded by the National Recording Preservation Foundation. Currently, I have a Mellon Foundation grant that is taking the project into a new phase, where I’m working with the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusett. To provide training and resources, and inspiration, we hope, to the radio stations and their institutional archives to really think about not only preserving the materials from the past but the materials that are being created in the digital environment right now.
Again, it’s building a model that is replicable, that can be taken to not only the 29 HBCU radio stations that are currently in existence, but to any small radio station that has a legacy that it wants to preserve within its community. That can be tribal stations, it can be rural stations in different parts of the country, as well as at other colleges and universities. It’s groundbreaking work, nobody’s really done anything like this before. Getting back onto the road and being able to make site visits and connect the institutional archivists with their radio station folks.
Talk about what that radio station has meant to the community and the worth and value there to preserve that materials, that’s really exciting work.
[00:14:01] Lauren: I was just about to say that you’re doing this work that nobody else is looking at. You don’t know what important information you have in these stations until you get into those weeds and preserve it. Have it available for people, digitize it, and make it available on the web. I’m sure that’s part of your work but that’s so exciting. I also love that you’ve brought in preserving what’s going on in the digital space currently because the other side of your work is preserving current stories and that kind of stuff.
I want to jump into that because the projects that you’ve been running for WYSO have done amazing work preserving stories from the Dayton community. The big one that you’re working on is West Dayton Stories that you currently direct. I think it provides a really cool comparison but also it goes really well with the work that you do with archival material as you’re just saying. That you’ve gone from working with this historical audio and then now preserving the local histories of older generations, but also younger generations and their views of the world.
What prompted you to make that switch and have that focus on living people and their lives and their stories?
[00:15:21] Jocelyn: Well as a producer, and a storyteller, you go where the stories are [chuckles] for one thing. As a member of the community voices, the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO we’re the branch of organization that works with community members. Not only to make content for the radio but to provide a community service in helping members of the community tell the stories that are important to them. That’s really the charge of the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices.
Working with the archives is just one part of the work that takes place at the radio station and moving toward that more contemporary storytelling piece. Definitely working with communities that have historically, as I said, been left out of the dialogue. Making sure that voices that we haven’t heard, have an opportunity to be heard. I think that WYSO has been really well-positioned to do that as a community radio station and as a public radio station. Really serving our public more intentionally and more thoroughly than it has been served in the past isn’t a part of what we’re about.
These projects really respond to that.
[00:16:48] Lauren: That’s the great part about local work like that, that you can preserve what’s going on in your actual community. Hear, then have people tune in and listen to what’s going on in their actual community. Big mainstream stations are great for what they are, but sometimes it’s really important to hear what’s people’s views and opinions and what’s going on in your actual community. I wanted to talk about the actual stories that you work with in this West Dayton Stories project.
I know it grew out of your Senior Voices project and where you’re documenting stories of seniors within the Dayton community, then you focused in on West Dayton stories. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about West Dayton and what kind of stories you’re preserving there, and why?
[00:17:35] Jocelyn: I’ll tell you a little bit about how it came into being first. When we were doing the Senior Voices project, we were working with the Dayton Metro Library system and Rebuilding Together Dayton a social services agency that’s national, but in Dayton, it was working with low-income seniors who own homes to keep folks in their homes.
The storytelling was really focused on seniors. One of the things that happened was the word got out that we were doing this project. We were approached by the city-wide Development Corporation, staff from that agency and they wanted to get in on it but we had pretty much already finished our production cycle at that point, we were in the midst of it. We thought, well, this is something that would be really valuable. Apparently, there are housing developments in the Dayton area that are aged and are going offline. They’re going to be replaced by other housing developments. The residents there, many had lived there for generations, but they had this wealth of stories and this wealth of elders that we stand to lose here as time goes on.
They really wanted to get something going. We talked about it for a while we thought about it. We figured if we can find the funding for it, we’ll take this project on. It took us a couple of years, but taking that project on involved, a lot of community meetings, a lot of organizing within the community to get the project off the ground. It probably took us about almost two years to identify and bring on board a small group of community producers. To do the storytelling and be trained to tell stories, do interviews, go out into their own communities and find the folks who have stories to tell.
We began training in January of 2020. The training was scheduled to be completed by March of 2020. After that point, the community producers would fan out into the community and begin gathering stories [laughs] but we all know what happened. [laughter]
[00:20:04] Lauren: You pushed through, and I think that’s amazing. I’ve listened, in your very first episode, you talk about how the pandemic hit when this started, but you’ve pushed through. I know within the oral history community, everybody was freaking out, “How are we going to interview people? We can’t go to their houses. We can’t sit down with them and talk with them.” All of these things. How did that go for you? How did you push through that challenge?
[00:20:29] Jocelyn: One thing that happened was we pivoted to zoom, and we started meeting virtually once a week. The group of us, the community producers from the West Dayton community, we bonded and we lifted each other up. We held each other up during the darkest part of the early pandemic. We waited to see what would happen. Then figuring out that we couldn’t wait any longer if we wanted to stay engaged, and also chronicle what was going on in the community. What we realized and what I realized too from my own academic work and others, we became participant-observers essentially.
What we ended up doing was a series of commentaries. Each of the community producers told their own stories. We workshopped short essays on coping with the pandemic. The second round was on the election and what voting meant in the black community. The third round of commentaries was on Black joy because we so often focus on the pathology of socio-economic and racial disparities, that we don’t focus enough on how beautiful it is to be alive and to be who we are. That really helped folks to continue their skill-building to really find their voices.
That was the exciting part. I know commentary really your voice, is coming from your core. That prepared us to take some time to figure out how we were going to tell stories in the community without being able to really be fully engaged in the community, but this time, we interviewed each other. The Community Voices interviewed each other. We’re able to start flexing that muscle a little bit. That was really pretty exciting because each one of the community producers is very engaged in the West Dayton community.
We were able to cover everything from looking at redlining and the impact that had on the Dayton community, and continues to have on it in terms of disinvestment. How that is beginning to slowly shift based on the energy that’s coming from the community itself. We talked about the Gem City Market, which is a co-op that is community-owned and was the community’s response to food apartheid, which was caused by redlining. From there talking about wellness and gathering spaces and how important it is to have those spaces in the community.
We talked about an urban gardening project that has its roots back in the ’70s, but it has been rejuvenated and the reclamation of the agricultural heritage of many African-Americans. Bringing that into concert with the market and being able to provide the community with fresh vegetables and skills that relate to growing our own food and self-sufficiency and self-reliance. From there talking about the community itself, the West Dayton neighborhoods and the vibrancy of those neighborhoods. The creativity that’s emerged out of them, and the history that exists there.
Also the movement of young people and young creatives on the West Side who are rewriting the current history. We’re poised right now to share that with the community in some different ways that I can talk about. Also looking to this summer where if we are truly in an endemic situation with the Coronavirus, to be able to get back out there and gather stories before they are lost. Generally, going back to into the elders of the community and inviting them to share their stories with us.
[00:25:05] Lauren: That’s amazing. Wow. What a wealth of knowledge you guys are collecting from that community. I know that you’re storing those at the Dayton Metro Library, correct? The full interviews?
[00:25:17] Jocelyn: That’s where we’ve had the Senior Voices project in the past. The project that we’re currently working on is still wide open about where it’s going to be available. Although, we do have some exciting experiments coming up with how we’re going to preserve and share stories.
[00:25:38] Lauren: I was going to ask you next to talk about those because I know that some of them are being made into these small clips that you share on WYSO and online. I know that you guys have other plans for getting these stories actually into the hands of the community that you’re working with. Could you share a little bit about how you guys are going to go about doing that?
[00:25:59] Jocelyn: Sure. We are producing a zine that is based on our fall series that I just described, in which the community producers interviewed each other around their passions and their work within the community. The zine has photographs. It has gardening tips. It has tips on how to take photographs because one of the community producers is a photographer. One of the community producers is a wellness professional who teaches yoga. She’s a nurse practitioner. She has some tips about using herbs to make a tea, that’s a wellness tea.
The whole piece is filled with QR codes, that if you take your smartphone and scan them, that’ll take you to a YouTube site where the entire interview is posted. You can hear not just the little clip that was in the produced piece that aired on WYSO, but you can hear the entire conversation between the two community producers. What’s really cool is that this is a print piece that can be distributed to folks who aren’t necessarily listeners of WYSO, and who public radio station is not necessarily part of their media diet.
We can invite them into learning more about our project and what we’re doing within the community and they can get a taste of it.
[00:27:36] Lauren: Seems like a great way to get people excited about it, and to maybe want to share their own story with you guys when you get to go out into the community.
[00:27:45] Jocelyn: Exactly. In a zine we are putting out a call for folks to tell their stories around this one particular housing complex the Desoto Bass Apartments that is going to be undergoing some changes over the next few years. That’s pretty exciting.
[00:28:04] Lauren: That’s great. I’m glad that you’re figuring out ways to make it accessible to the community that it actually is very valuable too. I want to move into, you’re doing a lot of this work, and I know that you’re a big part of the education in that, where you’re teaching other people how to do this type of work. This work is extremely important, but I also think it’s extremely important to do it in the right way. I don’t think that there is specifically a right way. I do know that there is some wrong ways that you can go about doing this work.
Especially where it’s super scary to just share your story with a stranger or someone you’ve never met before. Especially, in a world where we’ve had reporters come and take quotes from people and misuse them and all these media where your story could be misconstrued or something like that. We don’t want to replicate trauma in communities that have already been oppressed and used in various ways. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you do this type of work and how you teach others to do this type of work in a way that respects the people and the communities whose stories you’re documenting.
[00:29:21] Jocelyn: In this particular case, I see my role as facilitator. I’m not the producer. I’m not the one telling the story. As a representative of WYSO, I’m here to amplify the stories. I would say that, as I talked about at the beginning of the project, we spent months and months going to community meetings and talking about our ideas for the project with the community and getting feedback from folks about what the project could look like and who should be involved and those sorts of things.
We didn’t just parachute in and start extracting the stories from the community. We tried to build relationship and have tried to build a platform for the community to utilize. I think the training has very much been about providing the skillset and the equipment to be able to do this kind of storytelling. There’s a lot of freedom involved for the community producers in terms of how to approach a story or how to approach a topic. Knowing that there are moments when editorially we have to stand behind that stance and that openness to hearing perspectives that aren’t perspectives that we’re always used to hearing.
It’s been a pretty awesome project to work on and to test the commitment that the organization has to being anti-racist, to being in service to the fullness of our community in the region. Yes, that’s it. It feels like really good work.
[00:31:27] Lauren: I love that you’re pushing and making sure that that commitment stays true and sharing those stories. How has the community responded to hearing these stories? I know you haven’t put those zines out there but the people who have heard them on WYSO, what has the response been like?
[00:31:45] Jocelyn: The response has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s a small part of what WYSO does. The commitment to community goes pretty deep and broad here. There are other radio stations that have community-based projects, but I think ours is really pretty special because this small group of community producers, they have the skillset that people who work for NPR have now. Their capacity for storytelling not just for WYSO but for all of the other things that they do within the community and the other parts of their lives, it’s pretty substantial.
[00:32:32] Lauren: They can go on to produce lots of other content that is super important and shows their perspective on things as well.
[00:32:39] Jocelyn: Absolutely.
[00:32:40] Lauren: Well, we are almost at the end of our time together, but I wanted to close with talking about how both of these aspects of your work. The preserving media from the past and also producing media about current communities relates to your goal as an educator. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the educational opportunities that you see this work providing yourself, what have you learned? What have you seen the communities that you’re working with learn? Also, what do you think that people from outside of these communities can learn through listening to these stories?
[00:33:14] Jocelyn: Well, the more we know about our neighbors, the less they become others. I think that part of gathering and sharing stories widely like this is to keep us in community, keep us in communion with others. When we share our hopes, dreams, fears, values, excitement, love for each other and for ourselves, we knit together in ways that are important. Certainly even more important in these times where we’ve had to be so isolated from one another. I think that’s one of the most important things about it is that the more we know about each other, the better we can take care of one another.
[00:34:05] Lauren: I love that so much. Thank you. That seems like a great place to end our conversation. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and giving us your time today. Everybody should go and listen to all these stories on WYSO because they’re really incredible.
[00:34:19] Jocelyn: Yes. Thanks for having me.
[00:34:28] Lauren: The undergraduate programs that Jocelyn has taught in are available through our online campus, Antioch Online. We have a link to more information about this in our show notes.
Jocelyn’s story about a giant flag is available on the podcast The Big Ponder. West Dayton Stories, and Jocelyn’s other radio productions run live on the air on WYSO. They can also be streamed on the station’s website, which we’ll link to in the show notes.
We post these show notes on our website, the seedfield.org where you’ll also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University. I’m Lauren Instenes, and for today’s episode, I was the guest host as well as the editor. Jasper Nighthawk is the host for The Seed Field Podcast. A special thanks to Karen Hamilton and Melinda Garland.
Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode, we hope to see you next time, and don’t forget to plan to seed, sow a cause, and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University this has been The Seed Field Podcast.
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