Mentally handicapped people compose a significant part of our culture yet very few people have contact with them. During the summer of 2002, I was introduced to a culture seemingly hidden within the structure of our society. The further I became involved in this culture, the more I realized that I was developing different beliefs and perceptions of life. Careful analysis of the process behind this transformation led to the inquisition of others with daily exposure to the culture of mentally handicapped people. I discovered similar patterns of transformation in others who experienced bicultural living between the mainstream culture and the culture of the mentally handicapped. By developing a model based on Victor Turner’s rites of passage, the transitive process is constructed to illustrate the major findings of my fieldwork. Based on interviews, my own work experience and academic research I have concluded that prolonged exposure to the hidden culture of the mentally handicapped results in three important changes: 1) Increased tolerance and acceptance of people who challenge the “norm”, 2) a transformation of values and ideas concerning one’s own life as well as life in general and 3) an increase in awareness of privileges and behaviors previously taken for granted.
Christie Smith, ’04 Barry, IL
Majors: Sociology and Anthropology
Sponsor: Alfrieta Monagan