Hello, my name is Kevin Gonzaga and I wanted to briefly inform you about two projects I am simultaneously working on regarding cultural awareness and invite you to consider partnering with me on them by contributing content.
The main project…
Currently I am working at the University of North Dakota with the department of Pathology. I am working on a grant from the Department of Justice to develop online training materials for death investigators around the United States.
Death investigators are the people responsible for determining the official cause of death when it is unknown. While some cities have professional coroners and medical examiners who fulfill this role, this is not the case in all areas of the United States. Some states have very few trained death investigators and as such at times the death investigator of record might be a local volunteer firefighter or veterinarian as this is the most qualified person available. The Department of Justice is aware of problems this can cause and the online training they want developed is an attempt to raise the professional skills of those who may act as death investigators throughout the United States.
The specific aspect of this training I am developing includes cultural concerns and cultural competency. Because funerals are almost without exception associated with religious rites, in a multi-cultural society like ours it is very easy for death investigators to offend the deceased’s family unintentionally as they have contact with the deceased and usually very little cultural awareness. The purpose of the training I am developing is to ensure that death investigators are aware of this risk of offense, are thinking culturally throughout the performance of their duties, and are equipped to work with families to ensure that the body is handled with as much cultural and religious integrity as possible.
The training I am building has two basic sections: recorded lessons and video interviews.
In the recorded sessions I provide information and training regarding cross-cultural work in general. The video interviews will be available to the death investigators to watch for additional information more specific to one cultural or religious group they have or might encounter in the course of their duties. The interviews will be with cultural and religious leaders of various communities as they discuss their specific mortuary rites, concerns about death investigations, and about their culture and/or religion in general.
At the same time I am using this opportunity to work on a side-project of mine. In the interviews I am asking the question: “What are three things you wish everyone in the U.S. knew about your culture/religion?” I will incorporate these answers into the training but I I also plan to use the answers I receive to create a mini-documentary of sorts that will highlight the cultural diversity of the United States and hopefully raise awareness and appreciation of other cultures.
While I have the time and resources to perform some of these interviews myself I am attempting to be as comprehensive and inclusive with my videos as possible. For example, instead of recording an interview with one Native American elder, I want many different interviews representative of different tribes in order to respect the fact that North America is home to over five hundred different Native American tribes and they are not all the same. In a similar way, instead of recording an interview with one Muslim leader, I want to interview many different ones to reflect the fact that Islam has different religious sects and cultural groups within it. In short, I want as many different interviews and voices as possible and this far exceeds the time and resources I have available to me.
How you can contribute…
This is where I hope you come in. While I cannot interview everyone I want to, I can receive contributions from everyone who wants to contribute. If you are (or know of) an internally recognized authority within your cultural/religious community (an elder, pastor, imam, cleric, priest, rabbi, religious leader, etc.) that could speak on these issues I am inviting you to participate. I have developed simple but specific instructions so that anyone who wants can record an interview along the same guidelines as what I need for both of my projects. This footage can then be submitted to me, after which I will do all necessary editing and most likely incorporate it into both of my projects. My hope is that by receiving such contributed footage I will be able cover far more cultural and religious groups and sub-groups that I would ever have been able to do on my own.
All that is needed to contribute to these projects is a video-recording device (even a good webcam might work), a quiet well-lit, quiet place to record, a willing interviewee, the instructions and a USB storage drive that the footage will be uploaded to and mailed to me on. (I will most likely be able to provide the USB drive and the appropriate envelope and postage.)
Making it your own…
While for the purposes of this training I need some very specific questions answered, I am also very interested in what you want others (not just death investigators) to know about your culture and religion. As such, the instructions for this video and the project as a whole have been designed with a place for you to share about your culture/religion far beyond mortuary rites. So while the required content may only take 20 minutes to cover, if your interview includes fifty minutes of additional cultural/religious information, stories and history it will also be made available to death investigators. Such additional contributions are indeed encouraged..
So how can you get involved?
If you would like to support this project but cannot directly participate, please just get the word out via social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
If have any questions, if you know that you want to participate or know of someone who you think would be interested in contributing, please contact me at:
Thank you for your time and for contributing to these two projects.