APSU Spanish class keeping community safe through translation work
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – On a quiet afternoon in August, about 12 Austin Peay State University Spanish students found themselves inside a secret location – the Clarksville Area Urban Ministries’ SafeHouse. Before arriving, they were told the SafeHouse’s address had to remain confidential to protect the residents living there to escape abusive partners and other forms of domestic violence.
“I took my students to the shelter because I wanted them to have a connection, so they can see the importance of what they’re doing,” Dr. Osvaldo Di Paolo Harrison, APSU professor of Spanish, said.
His strategy worked. The students in his Spanish 4900: Spanish Internship course returned to campus newly motivated. They weren’t simply improving their translation skills – they were possibly saving lives.
“We’re getting hands-on experience, and not just experience, but helping the community,” APSU student Joseph Williams said. “We’re doing something great, something important. It’s a lot of work, but I love it.”
For years, the Urban Ministries SafeHouse has provided domestic violence survivors, and their children, with a protective sanctuary, but the organization’s English-language materials often prevented Clarksville’s Spanish-speaking population from using this important resource. Di Paolo Harrison’s class is now working to change that. This fall, the APSU professor is partnering with the SafeHouse, thanks to a City of Clarksville grant, so that his students can translate the organization’s many forms and documents.
“Our partnership with Dr. Osvaldo and his students has allowed SafeHouse to better serve the growing Latinx population in Clarksville,” Maricza Hinnah, program director for the Clarksville Area Urban Ministries, said. “Being able to present our clients with documentation that they can understand not only brings them comfort but shows them that we are ready to fight the battle against Domestic Violence with them. Clarksville Area Urban Ministries SafeHouse strives to provide inclusive trauma-informed advocacy services to all survivors of Domestic Violence and their minor children.”
Lead Safe Housing Program
In recent years, the City of Clarksville has worked to make more services accessible to its Spanish-speaking residents. The grant Di Paolo Harrison received is just one example of this work. Earlier this semester, the APSU professor also received a call from Vy Cornett, program coordinator for the Clarksville Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. Cornett worried that many non-English speakers were unaware of the dangers of lead paint in older homes.
Di Paolo Harrison decided to incorporate her concerns into his class, having his students also translate her program’s materials.
“By having our informational flyers, documents and applications translated, we at Neighborhood and Community Services hope to make the Lead Safe Housing Program more accessible,” Cornett said. “People who identify as Hispanic or Latino make up the second-largest ethnic minority in Clarksville, so it made sense for us to have those documents available in Spanish. We want everyone to have the opportunity to live in safe, decent and sanitary housing, and we hope that this is a step in the right direction."
Last spring, several advanced Spanish students signed up for the internship class, not knowing exactly what they’d be doing. Once they returned to campus this fall – and toured the SafeHouse – they realized the seriousness at the core of their assignments.
“I knew I would be translating, but I didn’t know what I was going to be translating,” APSU student Jayla Milton said. “Honestly, it was scary because I didn’t really feel like I was qualified.”
To ease their fears, the students were divided up into teams with each team assigned a section of a document. Then they brought their translations to class so that everyone could work on it together and then compare it to the translation their professor did independently. They knew they had to get it right for the people needing these services.
“For me, I think the fact that there’s such a large Hispanic population that is not English speaking that are served by both organizations, and to be able to do this to where they have better means of communication is very important,” Dr. Brandon Di Paolo Harrison, APSU assistant professor of accounting, said. He is married to Dr. Osvaldo Di Paolo Harrison and taking the class to both help the community and improve his Spanish-language skills.
For several students, the class also provides a glimpse into their future careers.
“I will say I definitely grew a lot in my language skills,” APSU student Sam Busby said. “This is definitely something that will help me in the future because I want to teach language and translation as a side job. It’s giving me good experience in the field I want to go into.”
The class hopes to finish the translations by the end of the semester, allowing the SafeHouse and Clarksville Neighborhood and Community Services to use the documents this winter.
“I am grateful to Dr. Di Paolo-Harrison for providing his students with an opportunity to help their community,” Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts said. “This is community engagement at its best.”
What else are they saying?
- “It’s a great partnership. It benefits everyone, and it also involves students. And the students are very excited about it.” – Dr. Osvaldo Di Paolo Harrison
- “What we know is that Spanish-speaking Americans receive one-third less care as compared to others where the primary language is English. What this means is that language barriers continue to lead to significant inequities in health care. When it comes to Domestic Violence there is no difference.” – Maricza Hinnah
- “They can now go to the SafeHouse and feel safe instead of being stuck in a bad situation.” – APSU student Shane Banks
- “It was difficult because it’s not my first language. It improved my knowledge on the Spanish language as a whole.” – APSU student Mason Hill
- “I love it. I really like translating…The handbooks are the biggest. I love having work to do, and it’s so satisfying to see the end result all in Spanish.” – APSU student Valeria Méndez
- “It was fun because I want to do that in my career in the future. It gives me good practice. I want to be a translator/interpreter.” – APSU student Brandon Neal
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