November 09, 2006

'BombsAway' speech students bring peace message

by Sun Min

CARBONDALE, Ill. – When Alison Aurelia Fisher of Kirkwood enrolled in the speech communication program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's College of Liberal Arts, she never thought her studies would include involvement in an activist singing group. As it turns out, that is exactly what happened.

Fisher and six of her speech communication classmates formed "The BombsAway Collective." The group describes itself as an "eco-feminist performance troupe" that sings and raises money for equal rights and peaceful causes. So far, the women have raised $500 for the Women's Center of Carbondale and the Peace Coalition of Southern Illinois. The Peace Coalition promotes nonviolent resolution of conflict, the integrity of the environment and tolerance of diversity.

It all started with "Protest, Performance and Surveillance," a class taught by associate professor of speech communication, Craig S. Gingrich-Philbrook. Doctoral students taking the class started talking about performing for the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings last August. "Then it just magically happened," said Fisher.

"Since we all have a passion for performance and social and political activism, it seemed like a good idea to join our talents," said Nicole L. Defenbaugh of Wales, Wis. (1477 Caernarvon Road). "All of us are already performers for the speech communication department and we wanted to expand our talents and political activism beyond academia to the community."

Since last summer, BombsAway Collective has performed several times for standing-room- only audiences at Carbondale's Longbranch Coffeehouse. Now the women are preparing for their biggest performance to date: a concert at the National Communication Association conference in San Antonio on Nov. 18.

"We want to send a message of hope. I just keep thinking of Margaret Mead's quote 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.' Activism provides hope for me and I know that Mead is talking about people like the members of the BombsAway Collective," said Fisher.

As their fan base grows, the singers are also getting a "real world" education to complement their performance studies at SIUC. "We can interact with the audience and touch them on a visceral level," said Defenbaugh. "Performance is powerful. It enables us to send a message in a way that touches peoples' hearts and souls. I feel these issues with my whole heart, body and soul and so I want to send these messages of peace, love and equality with my whole heart, body and soul. What better way than through the power of performance?"

Engaging the whole student is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.