Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Shauneille "Shaun" Blair, December 8, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Blair's experiences before Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Hello. My name is Jay Sztuk. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji in 1974 through 1976. And today, I'm interviewing Shauneille Blair who was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji, uh, from 2016 through 2018. Uh, Shauneille, uh, worked in community economic development, education, and youth in development.

Segment Synopsis: Blair was born in rural North Carolina. Blair grew up in a racially charged environment as the Ku Klux Klan held monthly rallies nearby. Blair's parents travel extensively doing mission work. Blair's parents thought it was important to be exposed to different people, ideas, and cultures. Blair chose to live in New York City and became a registered stock broker. Later, Blair lived in Atlanta, Venice Beach, and San Francisco. Eventually, Blair decided to look for a quieter, less stressful lifestyle. Blair's sister had recently returned from 3 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia and suggested that Blair apply. On her Peace Corps application, Blair stated a preference for Fiji or Tonga and was offered an opening in Fiji. 2 of Blair's housemates in California were also Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

Keywords: Advice; African Americans; Applications; Applying; Atlanta (Ga.); Black Americans; Black Indigenous Americans; Family; Influences; Jobs; New York City (N.Y.); North Carolina; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Roommates; Rural areas; San Francisco (Calif.); Traveling; Venice Beach (Calif.)

Subjects: Childhood; Ethiopia; Finance; Lifestyles; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Stress (Psychology); Tonga; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in community development; Volunteers

GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
GPS: North Carolina
Map Coordinates: 35.5557, -79.3877
GPS: New York City (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.71274, -122.005974
GPS: Atlanta (Ga.)
Map Coordinates: 33.755, -84.39
GPS: Venice Beach (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 33.990833, -118.459167
GPS: San Francisco (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.7775, -122.416389
GPS: Ethiopia
Map Coordinates: 8, 38
GPS: Kingdom of Tonga
Map Coordinates: -20, -175
00:05:38 - Reaction of Blair's parents to her joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Uh, so, were your, your parents in favor of, uh, of their kids serving in Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: Blair joined the Peace Corps when she was in her 40s so her parents were already used to her being on her own.

Keywords: Independence; Older volunteers; Support

Subjects: Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:06:33 - Peace Corps application process

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, so, how, how did the Peace Corps, uh, application, uh, process work for you?

Segment Synopsis: Blair says her waiting period was relatively short as her sister's application had taken about a year. Blair agrees that the cost of the required medical tests can be prohibitive. Blair agrees that the complexity of the application process can be onerous but is good preparation of the challenges of Peace Corps service.

Keywords: Challenges; Differences; Examinations; Exams; Family; Indiana; Inoculations; Paperwork; Preparation; Waiting periods

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Indiana
Map Coordinates: 39.8942, -86.2816
00:09:23 - Staging

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, then you get accepted. Did you have any kind of, um, staging in the U.S. before you went off to, to training?

Segment Synopsis: Blair had a brief staging at a hotel in Los Angeles. Blair states that in response to earlier criticism from Volunteers, the Peace Corps staff had made an effort to make Blair's cohort, and others, more ethnically diverse. Blair's cohort began with 6 Black, 2 Asian, 3 Latinx, and 1 Persian Volunteer. But Blair points out that unless one is Black, Fijians perceive others as white.

Keywords: African Americans; Anxiety; Asian Americans; Black Americans; Cohorts; Criticism; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Latinx; Los Angeles (Calif.); Orientation; Peace Corps staff; People of color; Perceptions

Subjects: Emotions; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Race relations; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Los Angeles (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 34.05, -118.25
00:11:18 - Arrival in Fiji

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so, then you all got on an airplane and you flew to Fiji.

Segment Synopsis: While boarding at Los Angeles International Airport, a male Fijian airline worker singled out Blair's baggage because of her race. Blair was then unjustly charged an additional $140. The bus sent to the airport in Fiji to pick up Blair's cohort was too small which caused a 3 hour delay. Blair's cohort was taken directly from the airport in Nandi to a camp on the Coral Coast. The members of Blair's cohort bonded closely with each other. Blair's cohort started with 38 Volunteers, of which 36 entered service.

Keywords: Buses; Cohorts; Coral Coast (Fiji); Language training; Los Angeles International Airport; Nandi (Fiji); Orientation; Patience; Racial discrimination; Racism; Traveling

Subjects: Emotions; International travel; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Race relations; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
GPS: Los Angeles International Airport
Map Coordinates: 33.9425, -118.408056
GPS: Nadi (Fiji) [formerly Nandi (Fiji)]
Map Coordinates: -17.8, 177.416667
GPS: Coral Coast (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.3296916, 177.3046295
00:17:02 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: And did you do all your training there in the Coral Coast area?

Segment Synopsis: After 4 or 5 days, the Volunteers were moved to host villages near Nausori with 6 Volunteers in each village. The Volunteers stayed with host families. For her home stay, Blair was matched with a single, older woman who passed on safety tips to Blair. Blair describes the village where she stayed during pre-service training.

Keywords: Amenities; Cultural differences; Cultural training; Host family; Language training; Living conditions; Nausori (Fiji); Norms; Safety; Technical training; Villages

Subjects: Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Stress (Psychology); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Coral Coast (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.3296916, 177.3046295
GPS: Nausori (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.024444, 178.545428
00:24:49 - Racism and sexism during pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: Alright, so, uh, what's your favorite training story?

Segment Synopsis: Blair feels that during pre-service training the Black and Asian American Volunteers experienced racist and sexist treatment by the native Peace Corps staff and the local people. Blair gives several examples. The other members of Blair's cohort tried to be supportive of the affected Volunteers.

Keywords: African Americans; Asian Americans; Behavior; Black Americans; Challenges; Clothing; Cohorts; Criticism; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Encouragement; English (Language); Gender discrimination; Host families; Illness; Local people; Locals; Peace Corps staff; People of color; Practice teaching; Racial discrimination; Sex discrimination; Sickness; Social media; Support; Tourism; Tourists; Unsupportive

Subjects: Fiji; Minorities; Misogyny; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Sexism; Stress (Psychology); Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
00:38:25 - Blair's assignment

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, then, uh, when you completed training, uh, where was your assignment?

Segment Synopsis: Blair was assigned to the school on the island of Waya. Blair was expected to teach classes on healthy living and sex education but she found the teaching materials were beyond her students' English fluency even though the national language is English. Blair reports that the local teachers tended to teach in the native language, though during Blair's second year 2 new teachers arrived who didn't speak the native language. Blair also did some tutoring in English.

Keywords: Challenges; National languages; Rural areas; Teaching English as a foreign language; Waya Island (Fiji)

Subjects: Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Schools; Teachers; Tutors and tutoring; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Waya Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -17.2844, 177.1273
00:43:20 - Blair's daily routine

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, tell me, uh, what your typical day was like.

Segment Synopsis: When Blair arrived at her work site, she was in poor health but school was on Christmas vacation. After an explanation to the parents, Blair started teaching water safety to the village children.

Keywords: Children; Deaths; Holidays; Illness; Safety; Sickness

Subjects: Health; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:46:54 - Blair's living situation / Sexual assault issues in Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: And, um, did you live with a family there--

Segment Synopsis: The previous Volunteer had arranged for Blair to live in the compound of another single woman outside of the village. This woman was the niece of the chief. There had been an earlier rape attempt of a teacher living at the school compound. Blair says that the cross cultural training was insufficient, especially with regards to body language and sexual norms. Blair has started a Facebook site for Peace Corps women to support each other. Blair feels that these sexual harassment issues are often covered up to avoid embarrassment.

Keywords: Arrangements; Criticism; Cultural differences; Cultural training; Dangers; Female volunteers; Funding; Norms; Rape; Sexual assault; Social media; Support; Taboo topics; Treatment of women; Villages; Women volunteers

Subjects: Interpersonal relations and culture; Misogyny; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Sexism; Violence; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:56:38 - Adjustments

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Partial Transcript: Did you, uh, eventually, um, start to feel at home there in the village and feel, feel--

Segment Synopsis: As part of her previous jobs, Blair had raised money for large corporations. Initially, one project in her village was to raise money for the women's group. However, none of Blair's ideas were accepted. Because she is Black, Blair was frequently treated with disrespect. Blair did develop some materials for financial education but Blair presented them elsewhere where a fellow Volunteer was doing work with the Ministry of Education. Blair socialized with the villagers but they were not open to advice from her. Blair's head teacher was from Nadi and was more receptive to Blair's activities.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Activities; Advice; Attitudes; Education programs; Expectations; Flexibility; Jobs; Lautoka (Fiji); Local people; Locals; Nandi (Fiji); Racial discrimination; Socializing

Subjects: Acculturation; Finance; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Teachers; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Nadi (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -17.8, 177.416667
GPS: Lautoka (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -17.624167, 177.452778
01:02:10 - Blair's life skills project

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Partial Transcript: Were you able to initiate any projects that were--

Segment Synopsis: Blair created a program called Youth Akro Skills to teach life skills through partnered acrobatics. Blair set up a Facebook page for the program and was able to share it at 4 different villages and, with government support, to train other instructors. Blair also found that it's safer for a female teacher to teach about sex education away from her home village.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Acrobatics; Activities; Adaptation; Bay area (Calif.); Children; Communication; Differences; Education programs; Empowerment; Female volunteers; Kids; Koro Island (Fiji); Patience; Prejudice; Site visits; Support; Taboo topics; Travel; Traveling; Villages; Women volunteers; Workshops; Youth Akro Skills

Subjects: Misogyny; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Sexism; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: San Francisco Bay Area
Map Coordinates: 37.75, -122.283333
GPS: Koro Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -17.3, 179.4
01:10:56 - Blair's reading club

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Partial Transcript: The other thing that I did--my mom, um, actually has a master's degree in English. And my mother's aunt, um, was on NPR as an on-air personality. And she's also writer. So, she wrote a series of children's books a while back.

Segment Synopsis: Besides tutoring, Blair started a reading club at the school, in part, using children's books which Blair had brought with her.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Activities; Books; Education programs; Family; Radio stations; Teaching English as a foreign language

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Tutors and tutoring; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:12:16 - Blair's travels

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Partial Transcript: Did you stay on Waya--

Segment Synopsis: Blair was medically evacuated for a month because of a skin problem. Because of her race and gender, Blair was treated disrespectfully by the doctors in Fiji, including the Peace Corps doctors, and her problem was misdiagnosed. The only other travel Blair did was to share the Youth Akro Skills program. Blair's cohort arrived shortly after a hurricane had struck Fiji. As she traveled in Fiji, Blair witnessed some of the hurricane damage and recovery efforts.

Keywords: Cohorts; Doctors; Illness; Koro Island (Fiji); Lack of communication; Peace Corps staff; People of color; Perceptions; Prejudice; Problems; Sex discrimination; Sickness; Site visits; Skin color; Social interactions; Travel; Traveling; Unsupportive

Subjects: Evacuation; Fiji; Health; Hurricanes; Minorities; Natural disasters; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Waya Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -17.2844, 177.1273
GPS: Koro Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -17.3, 179.4
GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
01:16:30 - Peace Corps' impact on Blair

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Partial Transcript: So, um, anything else you want to talk about?

Segment Synopsis: Blair is now involved with family counseling. The kids made Blair's service worthwhile. Change can be brought about by influencing the values of the young people. Since Peace Corps, Blair has a stronger identity as a feminist and Black activist. Blair is hesitant to recommend Peace Corps service, especially to women of color. Blair developed some strong, Black female friends from her cohort. Blair comments that most of the white Volunteers had a much more pleasant experience since they were not discriminated against like Blair and other minority members were.

Keywords: Advice; Challenges; Changes; Cohorts; Comfort zones; Differences; Discrimination; Encouragement; Friends; Identity; Kids; Peace Corps staff; People of color; Support; Understanding; Women; Women of color

Subjects: Fiji; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
01:24:13 - Diversity in the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: I, I wanted to, uh, get--something I forgot to go back to, you said you, you served on the diversity--

Segment Synopsis: Members of the preceding cohort felt that diversity issues were not being adequately addressed and contacted Peace Corps Washington. Accordingly, officials came from headquarters and established an Intercultural Competency, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. Blair and 3 other Volunteers from her cohort joined the existing committee of 5 Volunteers. However, problems that Blair pointed out were downplayed by the other Volunteers on the committee. Blair was also on the gender committee, but the other committee members were reluctant to cause trouble. Blair points out that the discrimination she experienced in Fiji also exists in the U.S. and should not be ignored.

Keywords: Cohorts; Decisions; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Female volunteers; Gender discrimination; Peace Corps staff; People of color; Reforms; Women volunteers

Subjects: Fiji; Minorities; Misogyny; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Sexism; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.9101, -77.0147
GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
01:29:26 - Blair's reflections on her service

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Partial Transcript: Uh, any other reflections on Peace Corps service, or?

Segment Synopsis: While in the Peace Corps, Blair found that she enjoyed living simply. Blair would like to continue living independent of the typical American infrastructure and to support indigenous women and children. Blair's biggest take away from her Peace Corps experience is values clarification - what is really of importance to her. Blair concurs that younger Volunteers might have more issues with loneliness and drinking. Before joining Peace Corps, Blair had done some international travel but had stayed mostly at resorts. Blair has a greater appreciation for the freedom, opportunities, and safety of living in the U.S.

Keywords: Acceptance; Advantages; Ages; Amenities; America; Challenges; Children; Drinking; Jobs; Learning; Lonely; Mid-career; Older volunteers; Personal growth; Plans; Problems; Running water; Safety; Support; Telephone calls; Traveling; Women

Subjects: Caribbean; Emotions; Europe; International travel; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Retirement; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Europe
Map Coordinates: 43.806735, -12.9925444
GPS: Caribbean
Map Coordinates: 18.41219, -81.3413117