Augsburg News

News Archives - 2001

Experiencing Cuba: Meeting the people, tracking the numbers

April 2001

Jill Mintz '01 joins the musicians in a square in Old Havana.During Interim 2001, Augsburg day and weekend students who enrolled in Quantitative Journalism left their computers behind and spent 10 days handling data and stories in Cuba. They interviewed people in schools and doctor's offices, in hospitals and orphanages, in cigar factories and on farms, in homes, community centers and churches—in spaces that reminded them of the 1950s and bore little resemblance to the cyber-age classroom they left behind in Lindell Library.

The Cuba journalism course was built on a dream of going to Cuba that began for me in 1968, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, living in a cement-block house in a slum-clearance project halfway down the eroding edges of a Colombian hill. Often, in the evening when I finished teaching a literacy class or came back from a neighborhood meeting, I turned on my short wave radio and sat down to read one of the Hemingway stories that came in my government-issued book locker. Most of the time, the only frequency I could pull in was Radio Havana and the only voice that came droning across the mountains into my house was that of Fidel. I've never been able to forget that sound. Fidel's voice used to question my intent: What was I doing—a Yankee volunteer—in Colombia? Didn’t I know how Cuba was doing things?

From that moment on, I've wanted to travel to Cuba, to see it for myself; but travel restrictions made it almost impossible. So, when I realized Augsburg's Center for Global Education could help turn the Cuba dream into reality for me and for my students, I began working with the center on a course that would give day and weekend journalism students a chance to learn about a place where few U.S. citizens have been able to study. Our goals were the same as they always are for Quantitative Journalism: to evaluate andanalyze information both numerically and verbally, to communicate quantitative data, and to write readable stories that demonstrate an ability to gather, handle, and present quantitative information.

Once in Cuba, the student journalists' observations tilted easily to the quantitative side, as they interviewed economists, met government officials, traveled to co-op farms and country churches, and spent time with doctors and teachers. They spoke with an adviser to the Cuban National Assembly, the equivalent of a Cuban Congress, and with diplomats in the U.S. Interests Section, the equivalent of a consulate. They talked and sang and danced with members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution and the Women's Federation of Cuba. All the while they were learning about the Cuban economy and the gains and challenges politics have brought to Cuban people.

What did the students find? In some cases, the student journalists observed what they expected. In some cases, they came back to the U.S. surprised by what the data showed. In many cases, the student journalists learned what Maria Lopez Vigil predicted in the book we used as our text: Cuba was Neither Heaven Nor Hell.