COPLACDigital: Constructing Identities and Making Sense of our Surroundings.

Course Description: In the light of increased sensitivities towards global threats, people are afraid of strangers. This course aims to give students the time and tools to reflect upon the meaning of “strange.” How is strangeness constructed? What is strange in one place at one time may not be considered strange elsewhere. How do we identify ourselves as being part of a particular culture and nation? What is familiar and what is alien to us and why? Through discussing these questions we can identify and explore larger issues, drawing from our respective local cultures. Course materials include film and short philosophical and literary texts. Students are welcomed from a wide variety of disciplines. They will venture out into their own communities to find local examples of strangeness and familiarity in the form of images, places, legends and stories, sayings, and history and see how the local fits in with larger narratives. This research will be used to create digital projects of “making strange” that will be part of the COPLACDigital site and provide a resource for thinking through the issues of strangeness.


Learning Contract

                                                               Learning Contract


                                                        Mana Abdi & Donald Hutchins


                                                    Drs Yvonne Franke & Janet Wesselius

                                                        Making Strange in America

                                            A COPLAC Digital Humanities Project

                                                                Mission Statement

It is our goal to further our understanding of the American perspective of strangeness by analyzing and engaging various aspects of “normal” and “alternative” cultural forms. We will actively observe and reflect on the inter-workings of our daily routine and their socio-cultural implications, and then will immerse ourselves in alternative manners in order to compare the perspectives. Afterward, we will compare our findings and deduce the similarities and differences, and extrapolate a deeper lesson relating to strangeness in our culture. For example, the two of us have different religious views. We will analyze our own individually, and then will explore an alternative or alternatives; then reflect on our experience. We will then bridge our experiences with the underlying lesson/moral/findings/etc. By first framing our pursuit in our personal realm, we set the standard by which we can measure strange. Our alternative, then, exemplifies key aspects of both perspectives, which brings out the strangeness in them both; allowing us to focus in, quantify and qualify those qualities. From there, our experiences will be meshed, in a sort of peer-review, where the common particulars will ideally provide us with a universal foundation for understanding the phenomena of “strangeness”.


Our research will entail interdisciplinary collaboration, potentially including faculty, student, and community members from our campus and the surrounding areas. We will also utilize course materials, personal and campus resources, including but not limited to campus databases, library stacks, personal experiences and materials, and audiovisuals(i.e. art or media). We may also employ a journalistic style interview to obtain information, which may require the use of audio recording and/or word editing resources. Further, we may also utilize video or audio in various forms(music, art, video, podcast, etc.), which would either require audio/visual recording and editing software or permission from the owners of original materials. As we move forward, some resources may change and ideas for easier alternatives may arise that alter the route we take to achieve our goals.

24 Feb 2017: Learning contract due; “Who’re You?” exercise(pick your brain for starting points)

This piece contextualizes who we “are” since no one truly knows us– possibly including ourselves.

27 Feb – 5 Mar 2017: Outline and draft “You” from before college– highlight points of strangeness

6 – 12 Mar 2017: Brainstorm and collaborate for “College Strangeness” exercise

13 – 19 Mar 2017: “College Strangeness” exercise; alternatives, interviews, and results

This exercise refers to degree that our expectations pre-college were/were not met throughout our service.

20 – 26 Mar 2017: Bridge pre- and post- college Strangeness– “what does it all mean to you, for you?”

27 Mar – 2 Apr 2017: Begin meshing/peer-review process; begin to illustrate or highlight universalities

3 – 9 Apr 2017: Conclude and finalize research findings; condense information in business report format

10 – 16 Apr 2017: Finalize report and findings; be sure data is organized and placed properly

17 – 25 Apr 2017: Final editing/instructor feedback (presentation?)

26 April 2017: Last day of class: Presentation(?)

Dear Ignorance,

Dear Ignorance,

When you hurl words like“to go back your country” or where you are you from, “originally” at me before any introduction or greeting, I wonder if you hear yourself. You hear how in less than thirty seconds you have made me realize that I am not part of this country and there will never be a time when you will ever think I have compromised enough to fit your definition of “American.” The word compromise might sound strange to you because you never demanded of me directly. The dictionary definition of compromise is to settle a dispute by mutual concession but I never saw you give up anything so that we can both coexist. You have asked me to take off my Hijab and get rid of my accent because my Hijab somehow made you uncomfortable and my accent made it hard for you to understand me when I talk.  I agreed. Then you ask me to straighten my hair because it’s too curly or nappy for you to accept that it is someone’s definition of beauty. I once again agreed. That was not enough so you ask me to lighten my skin by bleaching it because being black and having a dark skin is apparently something to be ashamed of; although you are the first in line every time we come up with something new. After all of this, I often find myself thinking about when will the compromises be enough? How many do I have to make before you feel I qualify to be considered “normal American.” When will I be getting my diploma telling me I have now graduated and is accepted into your normal American or was that just one of your many lies.  I wonder if you even realize there is a big difference in being African and African American. You probably don’t because you never had to. I wonder if you know the difference between being an immigrant, an asylum seeker or refugee. Now that I mention these things, you are probably wondering which category I belong in because with your narrow-mindedness comes with your inability to look beyond yourself and find that there “are normal Americans” that could easily fall into these categories.  You are probably now very curious as to which categories I fall into. I will tell you because I am a true believer that we should educate all. I am a refugee. Now that  I mentioned that, the other immediate though you probably have is, where you vetted? This might be hard to believe but the answer is yes, for almost three years. The average is two year, so rest assured. You see, as a refugee, I literally had no choice but to come here because the only time a person leaves their home is when home won’t let you stay. As British Somali poet Warsan Shire put it in her poem “Home.”

          No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark,

         You only run for the border, when you see the whole city running as well you

 neighbors running faster than you breathe blood in their throats,

When the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory is holding a gun bigger than his body( lines1-4).

You will never meet a refugee who will tell you otherwise. So next time you have the urge to yell at me with your hateful  I want to you to remember a couple of very simple things. I want you to remember I would not be here if I did not have to. Remember that although I am here I will not compromise where there is no actual compromise.  I will not take off my Hijab or get rid of my accent so that you can feel comfortable. I will not straighten my hair because I enjoy that my hair is curly and your straightener can’t tame it even if it tried. I want you to remember all of these but most importantly I want you to remember that I do not want to fit in your definite of what it means to be an American.



Shire Warsan. Home is the barrel of the gun. Youtube Video, 2;51. Posted by “Paultje Piraat.” May 30th, 2016,

Don’t Ask!

Dear Institutions,

Next time you feel that we are only good enough when you need us to make you look good and you come knocking at our door, please don’t. We more than just a poster child for you. As hard as it for you to believe not all people of color are the same. Any individual of color you meet will never be able to speak for all people of color and you would have known this if you would have just done your basic research. When you find out that I am African, don’t ask me to showcase my culture for you because my culture is not for you to enjoy. Don’t approach us when you are making a video or taking photos so that you can put on your website and claim your “inclusive” “diverse” when you spend the least amount of money on diversity-related events. Don’t disguise tokenism as trying to be “inclusive” when we constantly face systematic, xenophobic and Islamophobic racism on daily basis and when come to you for aid, you look the other way and pretend like it not happening. Don’t ask us to be your token when you let your frat boys and girls have “black face” parties and they face no consequences. Don’t ask me to attend events so that you can use me to make yourself look good in front of the board of trustees. Don’t ask because we see right through the photos, video and the colorful words you use that that you are not seeking to make your institutions more inclusive, you are just trying to mak yourself look decent. Do not ask because people of color have been Institution’s  guinea pig for far too long and we are done.


Akeem Olaj & FreeQuency – “Keep On Token” (Southern Fried). Youtube Video,3.09. Posted by “Button Poetry.”December 4th, 2016,



Strangeness by Donald Hutchins IV


Is the experience of

imposing our preconceived notions

upon that which is, for the first time, relating

with our sense of the world and

our place in it.


is your conscience

scouring the stacks of your

past selves and relations with the

world, looking for the color or shape that

lie before your unexpecting, virgin eyes

 blinding your senses as your inner

self calls you to say there’s

nothing here;

“that is



is the barrier we appropriate

to defend our habits

from change.


is the box in the

hall closet for deposit

of the differences we wish

not to talk about when

certain folks are

over for tea

only the contents

are a human being;

they encompass our

inner meanings and

isolated feelings of

the way all these

social dealings


our place and taste

in our homes and bodies.


blames a concept,

an interchangeable face

or fact of mob mentality

with no peer-review

and nothing to

say to you

because another


would be

different than

imposing our biases

on what we see before us

when our conscience is confronted

with something new, but just ignores us

and paints the image with a question mark face

but with angry eyebrows to perpetuate hate so

it’s easier to make fates for kids and elders

in poor states, while another turns the

tide to desecrate all other’s faiths

so they never really ever

feel home in this



is the normalization

of victimization through

unconscious habituation of

inaction through disinterest of

the innate person and principles of

their being and place, value, meaning in

the world, as a vast interconnected system

of the same beings at various degrees

frequencies, and vibrations of

energy and raw potential

for just about



is the dualism of

our life in the cosmos,

and the paradoxes.


is the opposite

of seeing the grass

greener on the other side

or the glitter of gold

as the sun shines

bright and



occurs when we

are incapable of

facing the unknown

without the habit of

judgement, founded

in the known, jumps

before the urge to

seize an opportunity

to learn and see,

once again,


Estranger in a Strange Land

By Donald Hutchins

It feels strange to know so little about so much, as the pursuit of understanding expands your scope away from itself. Chasing the rabbit is just like any other fix; I am another type of junkie.

Questions reciprocate one another. And without variation or differing view, our subjective mental chases in nature would uptake a psychopathic positive feedback loop through experience.

But we have one another. It’s a dance of time, our experience of self through one another. Simply gotta wanna try, gotta feel: there’s one another. Need not to walk in some other’s shoes, but make sure one another has ’em.

Don’t ask and question or strike with your judgement. Morality, objectivity, freedom or liberty are not above you. You will not ascend to higher order in deluded self-absolution, and committing acts as such. There is no view from nowhere to impose upon us the way.

Generalizations are always false. Absolutes are a fallacy.

Truth, morality, and good are acquiesced in the present, in the moment of engagement. Anywhere else, they’re illusory. To conceptualize them in an objective sense remains subjective, and the act on such a concept is an injustice to your pursuit.

We are a dynamic system within systems, upon which there is no discernible hierarchy. Microcosms within macrocosms within microcosms within– so on. Dependent upon one another– though while caught in a paradox of disharmonies.

The human condition is one of intense passion. Such a being is embodied with endless potential anew, while driven with raw energy; combining to create power. If there’s any divine entity to observe us, they must wonder the calamities we must’ve required in the lab.

Imposed upon us is a galaxy of differing worlds and senses, approaches to being and relating in space– physically and mentally. Truth and morality lie in our hands, the steering wheel we all use to determine the next moment. At times our actions lead us on a path to righteous compassion– other times we run over folks.

Compromise is a mutation of immoral activity we have habituated perhaps for good. To slay a jungle village for palm oil, to invade struggling landscapes for resource acquisition: or to live without Cheez-itz and existing combustion-engine infrastructure? Why not, bear with me now, look at other options.

“Yes”, “No”, “good”, “bad”, “false”, “true”, “male”, “female”, “black”, “white”; “American”, “African”, “French”, “Japanese”; “refugee”, “immigrant”, “poor”, “alien”, “foreign”, “slave”.

The efficient encapsulations of things too complex for categorization– and yet there they are. We see these words in stark contrast to an opposite, and yet those comparisons differ between each of every one and other’s skulls. They’re used for understanding, when they do not even have the capacity to understand that which they stand for, as signs/symbols of something distinguished to an absolute degree.

“Well, maybe”, “alright”, “challenging”, “compelling”, “interesting”, “HUMAN, GOD FUCKING DAMMIT”, “undiscovered potential”, “beauty to be discovered”, “fears to address”, “obstacles to overcome”.

We’ve got to work together. With ourselves, with others, with everything, without judgement or inflated sense of self– which is indeed the first challenge of rectifying the ills of our communal world. The changes we seek are inherent in ourselves, however difficult it is to recognize.

To consume beef is to transform 2500 gallons into an 80z. sirloin– while Flint Michigan, the valley communities in California, struggled for water these past few years. To consume cocao over cacao is to be guilty by association for child slave labor in African resource wars, in which Nestle’ and Hershey’s fruitfully invest following your continued market participation.

To allow racism, absolutism, anti-intellectualism, tokenism to continue. To allow the over-exaggeration of minor issues as “mental illness”, and to glorify suicide and normalize fascistic tendencies with humorous sentiment. To let the opinions of others direct your feelings of self-worth and accomplishment. To convince yourself you’re unworthy, unfit, incapable of value and being valued.

The change begins with you. We value the value life brings to the table. Life is a determinant of value, not the reverse. Let your light blind the present with your offerings– it may take or leave it as you consent.

If you believe in your best and most appropriate self, if you strive without the influence of others to walk your own line, if you take each challenge as the opportunity to show the potential you’ve always had to kick ass and triumph, you’ve already won.

The Average Black Girl

As a Black Muslim woman being in an academic setting of any sort is always strange. It is 2017 but people still equate intelligence to the color of someone’s skin. I go to a school where there are about twenty-five or so black people so most of the time I am the only black person in my classes. I have lost count of the amount of time I said something in class or to people and people look surprised that I could form an intelligent coherent sentence that they would come up to me afterward and feel the need to congratulate me.They look at me as if they could not believe that I was actually intelligent enough to think that deep. Often people feel the need to pat me on the back saying, “you speak good English.” I often have the urge to tell them that their remark is not a compliment rather an insult and the correct grammar is “you are well spoken” not “you speak good English.” I often wonder if they ever imagined saying that to a white student and realize how they would have sounded. As poet Ernestine Johnson put it.

They say I’m not the average black girl because I’m so well spoken

Poised, full of etiquette, a white man’s token

You know I remember my ex’s mother telling me, “I didn’t know how I was gonna react when he brought home a black girl, but I like you because you talk so white. (lines1-2)

I wonder if they realize I speak more than four languages. I wonder if they realize it only took me less than three months to learn English and by the age of fifteen, I have completely memorized the whole Quran. That the only reason people feel black people can’t be intelligent is because the white men made sure of it for more than 245 years.


Ernestine Johnson Performs ‘The Average Black Girl’ on Arsenio Hall Show.Youtube Video, 4:36.Posted by “Ernestine Johnson.” April 14, 2014,


Resources for the Concerned Thinker

By Donald Hutchins

Mind control:

One of many patents on Cannabis:

This could’ve supplied the world with free energy, but J.P. Morgan wasn’t interested in “free”:

Dealing with today, as a journalist:

“Only through understanding the freedom we lack can we enhance the freedom we possess”~ Raoul Martinez; artist, philosopher, and writer:

These folks are just awesome:

More to come soon!

Finally Entered the Matrix!

By Donald Hutchins

Fiiiiiiiinally, I have gained access to the website!

~noises~ One less anxiety attack.

It’s strange, to me, that all the people that used to speak of the internet as a fad while passing out worksheets on penmanship, are now fully engrained in a tech-based approach to nearly everything in academia now.

I used to be told not to put information on the web ’cause “you never know” where it’s going or to who, and for what purpose. Don’t put your name, don’t talk to strangers or folks you don’t know well, don’t discuss personal info or where you live, etc. All that shit’s now long-since gone! The ship to sail has been outmoded for a rocket ship, and it’s orbiting Saturn at this point in the game.

How strange is it that all those who spoke with apprehension of this newfound “fad” back in the day are now comprehensively intertwined with the technological realm that has taken hold of our society; they’re now asking the previously led-like-cattle youth: “how do I get the sounds to stop”, “how do I Facebook”, and “what’s this button do?”(for all you Dexter’s Laboratory fans).

Is it so strange the turning of tables, or is it more strange that I actually wasn’t sure how to spell “penmanship”, and was lost in a stupor in the instant my brain called the word front and center. Such a mental act hadn’t taken place, at least based on my memory, since elementary school. This memory seems trustworthy, seeing as I remember moving to typing-tests in middle school, and straight up Macintosh for high school.

How strange!

If you hate it so Much, Than why are you here?


High school is strange in every way possible. I think most high schoolers can agree with me when I say everyone hates it.It gets, even more, stranger when you are Somali girl who wears the Hijab who decides join the cross country. As someone who came to the United State relatively young I never really viewed myself as “other” because I have been around others just like me. Joining a sport that is mostly dominated by white females quickly made me realize that I indeed view as a  “stranger.” Before joining the team I knew that I live in a white state and the people I was interacting with have properly never interacted with people who look like me, but I went in thinking that no matter what happens,  surely they know I am human first and foremost. The fact that most people saw me as a stranger in the sense that I do not fit the typical description became very obvious when an official completely skipped me over because “I did not appear like a runner even though I was wearing a uniform. This was the moment that I realized that there might some truth to why my did not me to join the team.  I loved running and cross country was and continue to one of my favorite sport but I often wonder if it was worth it. If it was worth constantly feeling lonely because there was never another person who look like me let alone have the same beliefs. It was worth dealing with the constant microaggression of racism, Islamophobia, and the xenophobia that followed me everywhere I went.  If it was worth constantly having to defend everything I stood for.  If it was worth being ostracized from my own community because they saw me as the “bad” apple. There are days the answer to these question is because nobody should have a deal with people who are hateful and often choose to remain ignorant. No, because I often look at people and expect the worse even though I try every day to see the best in them. No, because this experience left me having a hard time thinking about the word home since I never felt home anywhere that I have been. No, because I was constantly told I was not good enough to be part of something and after a while, I began to wonder if I  would ever be good enough. But there are always days when the answer to this question is yes because I have learned more about myself in those four years than any period of time in my life.

   I have learned that my struggle was nothing special, in fact, it was far from remotely being special. There were and are countless Muslim refugees who are making their own path unapologetically even though every day they have a deal with people that they constantly telling them that they are not good enough simply because they do not fit the “normal” American description. I learn that this is precisely what I  want these people to see. I  no longer had the desire to succumb to their definition of what being an American means. I have already compromised enough and I no longer had the desire to assimilate and destroy the remaining things that made me, me!


Women of the World Poetry Slam Finals 2016 – Emi Mahmoud. Youtube Video, 3:32. Posted by“Poetry Slam Inc.” March 30, 2016,