People Watcher

by Katharine Reece MFA '12

Meghan Roguschka

When Meghan Roguschka ’12 says that Grand Central got her to Harvard, she doesn’t mean by train. She means the hundreds of pages of notes that make up her ethnographic research project about homeless people in the station.

The summer before her senior year, Roguschka volunteered with a women’s shelter in Midtown Manhattan, staying overnight and leaving at 5 a.m. when the women were kicked out. It was in the bathroom at Grand Central, five blocks away, that the idea for her project was kindled.

“I started to notice a familiar group of women there with me, washing their clothing, putting on makeup, or brushing their teeth,” Roguschka says. The homeless women captured her heart—and mind.

Roguschka, who is the first in her family to graduate from college, grew up in an environment that encouraged “do-gooding.” She even remembers informing her fourth-grade teacher in Utah that she wanted to become a missionary. Her terms of doing good have drastically changed since then however.

Most influential was her trip to a small village in India after her sophomore year at SLC. Her plan, funded by Davis Projects for Peace, was to start a community garden in Pohari, a village in one of the hungriest regions in the world. She calls the trip a serendipitous failure."

“I thought a mere garden could fix this village’s problem of hunger, and I had no notion of the larger, systemic issues these people were facing—much less about the gardens they already had,” she explains. “I realized it wasn’t my place to enter any community with an uninformed idea of how I should change it.”

In fall 2011, she won another grant, this time to continue her research in Grand Central. She conducted interviews, took copious field notes, and occasionally slept in the station with people who befriended her. Her final project explored the ways people use and occupy space in the station, including the power dynamics between the homeless, the businesses, and the police.

Now at Harvard, Roguschka has returned to her study of Indian development, armed with more questions and a greater understanding of the country’s complexities. As a doctoral student in socio-cultural anthropology, she can look forward to six years of fully funded study in the art of taking a whole lot more notes.