The LSU Honors College has always been a proponent of funding positive change, beginning with innovative students possessing motivation, promise, and vision.
Rising sophomore and Honors student Major Aryanna Prasad has this vision. Prasad was recently been awarded the status of Ogden Fellow, the recipient of the Roger Hadfield Ogden Leaders Program Fellowship. The Fellowship, which aims to facilitate significant undergraduate initiatives through a $5000 support fund, is made possible by a $1 million gift to the Honors College by Roger Houston Ogden.
Prasad, born and raised in Opelousas, Louisiana, hopes to utilize her funds to examine the many causes of poverty in her hometown through a documentary. She first became interested in the problem of poverty during her first semester of LASAL.
“We learned about Louisiana poverty, and some of its causes. It was kind of a moment of cognitive dissonance, because I'd always been surrounded by poverty, but I had a very different approach to it because of things figures of authority had always told me,” said Prasad. “[Learning more about poverty] made me question everything I'd been told.”
According to Prasad, there is a region in her hometown, known as “The Hill”, which many members of the community avoid due to its poor reputation. Located behind the main street in Opelousas, The Hill comprises of project housing and lower-income inhabitants. Prasad was curious about this taboo area of her town, and examined it for herself one morning.
“It was just a neighborhood. It was just people getting up for work and it wasn't terrifying, or anything of the image I had beforehand,” said Prasad. “I realized that maybe everything that I've been told isn't exactly correct, maybe it's really unfair for us to judge this place from the outside when most of us never go there, never encounter anyone from there.”
It was this realization that prompted Prasad to delve further into understanding her own outlook on poverty, the causes of poverty, and the development of largely negative viewpoints of these causes.
“I don't think it's right to just blame people — everyone that I had spoken to had never really encountered anyone in poverty,” said Prasad. “It just made me realize that my town is really separated, that there are these two different worlds that don't really interact with the other. It made me want to question the way they think, why they think the way they do, how things are for those in poverty — I wanted to know the reality of it.”
For Prasad, The Hill was both the most blatant and controlled sign of poverty in her hometown, as well as a fitting representation of the approach to poverty in Louisiana.
“The Hill is in the center of town, and in a sense it's hidden from view, but it's right before everyone's eyes,” said Prasad. “That's the way I kind of feel like poverty is in Louisiana — everyone can see it, we don't try to hide it, we all pretend that it isn't there, or that it's not our problem.”
Prasad’s proposal and subsequently funded project will be to examine the issue of poverty in Opelousas through a documentarian lens. She hopes to interview inhabitants of The Hill, local health care officials, school board officials, teachers, representatives of the local welfare office, and local priests or pastors.
“I want to look in my own town and give people the opportunity to say, ‘This is my situation, this is why I'm here,’” said Prasad. “I want to actually give people the chance to speak for themselves. I want to show everyone another side. I want to have a holistic perspective.”
In addition to this holistic perspective, Prasad’s mission is to develop her own opinions and learn from the experience as well.
“This project is not just about showing people what poverty is in Opelousas, but showing every side, and not putting my own bias in it,” said Prasad. “I want everyone to know that this is something that I want to learn from as well, and understand.”
While Prasad had considered the project prior to receiving her funding, the Ogden Fellowship provided the means to realize and pursue her vision.
“Without the Honors College I would not be doing this,” said Prasad. “I'm just so happy that it worked out, and to know that people support me and believe that I can do it. To know that LSU supports me, and that the Honors College does — that means a lot to me.”
As she begins the planning process for her documentary, Prasad hopes to create a website or blog to encourage community interaction, build anticipation, and foster interest.
“I want [this project] to involve the community, involve people from Louisiana, but I also want people from outside,” said Prasad. “I want to portray it in a light where anyone can understand and appreciate it.”
Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831