I had the opportunity to meet Nora F. Murphy (TerraLuna co-founder) for the first time in the fall of 2015. At the time, I was a senior at The University of Alabama double majoring in English and African American Studies. That semester, I chose to take a timely and experimental class titled “#BlackLivesMatter” that Andy Johnson designed and taught in order to trace the origins of American disregard for black life, autonomy, and identity. For one class, Andy chose to invite Dr. Murphy to speak about her work as an activist with the Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter. The way in which Dr. Murphy framed her approach to social justice and activism—as necessary components to a fulfilling and ethical life rather than interchangeable and vestigial accessories—truly resonated with me.

Prior to hearing Nora speak and taking Andy’s class, I had written articles critiquing inequality in various forms and worked on some small-scale demonstrations and organizing meetings. However, I found myself grappling with how to integrate my personal and political lives in order to become a more effective and efficient advocate for social justice. Nora and Andy’s beliefs and actions provided an example of how I could live a conscientious, kind, and determined life that orbited around activism in unexpected ways. In addition to political organizing, their work showed me that it was possible to use my research and academic training to facilitate positive, tangible changes in the lives of others.

That semester, I co-founded a movement titled We Are Done, which was a coalition of students, faculty, staff, and community members who sought to create new ways of addressing discrimination at The University of Alabama. In November 2015, we held a rally at Malone-Hood Plaza, the site of then-governor of Alabama George Wallace’s 1963 “stand in the schoolhouse door” against the integration efforts of Vivian Malone and James Hood. That day, we released a list of 11 demands that we designed in the hope of improving employment, academic, economic, and social conditions for students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds at The University of Alabama. In February 2016, the founders of We are Done collaborated with The University of Alabama in opening the campus’s first Intercultural Diversity Center, which provides space for socially-inclusive training sessions, meetings, festivals, and forums.

After graduating, Nora offered me a position at TerraLuna Collaborative as an evaluator while I pursue my MA in Women’s Studies at The University of Alabama and, ultimately, my PhD. At TerraLuna, I am currently honing my evaluation skills, familiarizing myself with MAXQDA 12 as I code and read interviews of participants in Fetzer’s wellbeing initiative. This year, I will also begin conducting between 96 and 120 interviews with the 24 participants of Cohort 3 and writing up reports regarding our team’s findings.

Prior to working at TerraLuna, I was familiar with qualitative research (I was particularly interested in ethnography, sparked by a reading of Zora Neal Hurston’s classic Mules and Men). However, my experiences at TerraLuna have exposed me to their unique approach to qualitative evaluation methods, in which evaluators are encouraged to adjust their evaluation models as more information is gathered through interviews and other forms of data collection. This research approach recognizes and prioritizes the often-shifting nuances of human perspective. This allows for the generation of findings that are especially helpful both when analyzing human wellbeing as well as when developing effective forms of public policy that are critical to addressing structural inequality. In this sense, TerraLuna finds itself on the forefront of deftly integrating social justice and academic research in order to facilitate comprehensive solutions to enduring human problems.

In my own research, I am interested in the dynamics of race, gender, and economics that exist between institutions and individuals, specifically relating to the erasure or demonization of individuals who are either unable or unwilling to align themselves ideologically with institutions, may they be hip hop artists or Black Panther Party members. Furthermore, as an scholar, I intend to marry qualitative and quantitative research in a way that utilizes human testimony (especially the testimonies of the impoverished or marginalized) as a tool to generate research questions that quantitative data alone would not allow. TLC’s willingness to value qualitative research and ethnography as central components of its research design has been incredibly valuable to me as a scholar and an individual as I continue to learn new ways to ask questions that generate new and compelling responses.

A profile photo of Amanda BennettAbout the Author

Amanda, an Atlanta native, is currently pursuing an MA in Women’s Studies at the University of Alabama. She is one of the co­founders of the We are Done student activist movement, which sought to address issues of racism and discrimination at the University of Alabama. As the former Campus Editor­-at-Large for the Huffington Post, her articles have been cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jezebel, Fusion, and Jet magazine. In the fall, she will begin applying to PhD programs in English literature and African American Studies.

Read more about Amanda Bennett in the New York Times’ February 1, 2016 article called Meet The New Student Activists. She is also the Huffington Post’s student and campus-editor-at-large for the University of Alabama and you can read her articles here.