Episode 27: Episode 27. QR SIG Dissertation Award Winner, Marie Vea

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In this episode, Dr. Jenni Wolgemuth interviews the QR SIG's 2021 Outstanding Dissertation Award winner Dr. Marie Vea. Dr. Vea is the Assistant Dean for Student Services and Staff Development at the University of Vermont. Dr. Vea's dissertation is titled Sense of Place and Ways of Knowing: The Landscape of Experience for Black, Indigenous and People of Color in Natural Resources, Environmental Education and Placed-based Learning. The follow text presents a transcript of the recording.
Jenni 0:25

Hello, everyone and welcome to qualitative conversations a podcast series hosted by the qualitative research special interest group of the American Educational Research Association. I'm Jennifer Wolgemuth, the current chair of the qualitative research special interest group outstanding dissertation award committee. I am very excited to be joined today by Dr. Maria Vea, who is the recipient of the 2021 outstanding dissertation Award for her dissertation titled, Sense of Place and Ways of Knowing: The Landscape of Experience for Black, Indigenous and People of Color in Natural Resources, Environmental Education and Placed-based Learning. Dr. Vea is an assistant dean for student services and staff development at the University of Vermont in the School of environment natural resources, where she has worked and studied for over 20 years. Her areas of research expertise and experience include green jobs and internships, social justice, and engaged learning. Thank you for joining me today, Dr. Vea. I'm really thrilled to learn more about you and your work. So to get us going, I was thinking our audience would appreciate learning more about your dissertation work. Can you talk about your dissertation, maybe about its scope, and its methodological focus.

Marie 1:54

Thank you, Jenni. And thank you also for the opportunity to talk with you more and to for the award, I was really honored to stand with so many wonderful researchers, and also to bring some light to some of the work that I and my co researchers and colleagues have been doing. And as you mentioned, so the title of the dissertation speaks a lot to what the content and scope is. So sense of place, and ways of knowing. So where we are in place, not just physically but also metaphorically and figuratively, and ways of knowing epistemologies, how we arrive at the things that we believe we know and are important to us and make meaning of experience. But that's specifically what is experienced for black, indigenous and people of color bipoc folks in the field that I spend the most of my time and career in. So those are places related to natural resources, environmental education, and place based learning. So I've worked in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources for 17 years, and have worked with bipoc folks coming through those curriculum in the environment, and have found witnessed the challenges that a lot of the students, alumni and colleagues have within environmental learning and working spaces. So the dissertation really focuses on what has been called academic imperialism and epistemic injustice, how ways of knowing and experiences of this population of folks are invisible alized, diminished, erased from the larger environmental narratives. And oftentimes, what I experienced is that when we ask questions about why aren't people of color interested, or in the environmental fields, it's from a perspective of no lacking something, or it's not interesting enough, it's from a deficits, perspective. And this dissertation focuses on the strengths based perspective because, like, with underrepresented folks of all identities, we're here, we've been here and we continue to be here. And why is that? How do we sustain how do we survive? So the dissertation is a strengths based perspective, with co-researchers that are nine alumni of the Rubenstein school. And we came together to share stories and images and reflections in an environment that really was inspired by indigenous research methodologies, methodologies and methods and came out understanding having a better understanding of our individual ways of knowing and our collective Ways of Knowing that help us to survive and thrive in these learning and working spaces. A big part of the journey qualitative research. So coming together with people that I had long time relationship with, and standing shoulder to shoulder and strength to strength with them, acknowledging and honoring their experience and wisdom, and uplifting, that they have as much wisdom and expertise of their experience as anybody that might have a credential behind their name. So the other piece that I'll just add in terms of scope, and I'm talking to primarily I hope, folks in education in higher education and environmental education, and in some part, telling them what has happened and how we can make a change. But really, I want to talk to the folks of color that are wondering, how can I make find my space in place in the field of education in research in the environment? And how do I do that, that is in integrity with who I am, where I come from my ancestors, and with a spirit of joy in the face of challenges, especially in the last couple of years. So, so all of that is, is part of the scope of this particular work.

Jenni 6:26

Beautiful, I'd love to hear your talk. And and that really comes through so clearly in reading your work. One of the things that I appreciated about it as a methodologist is that the the commitment and the ethic and the epistemology, your epistemological position, seem to drive your methodology that the methodology emerged through the process of the inquiry, as opposed to what we so often see, which is the methodology was chosen and decided in advance. So I would be sort of interested to hear your thoughts on that, particularly in relation to your decision to take a participatory approach to do this as a collaborative work. Can you talk about why you involved your participants, as co researchers, and then more broadly, about the methodological decision making that you made this work?

Marie 7:28

Thanks, Jenni, it's, it's interesting and great that you should say that the methodology didn't drive the work was the the the work, the capital W work that drove the methodology. And if, you know, I was a career counselor for a number of years, and I'm still kind of a career counselor when I advise students. And oftentimes, I think the aspiration for all of us is that, that I can show up to my full as my full self wherever I am. And I'm working with students for the last 20 plus years and specifically with students that are interested in the environment for the last 17 building relationship, telling stories creating environments where people can explore and fail and be awkward and you know, share and be vulnerable is part of what I think really makes the community where work really vital. And so that when I was exploring dissertation work and doctoral work, from the very beginning, I wanted it to be creative. I wanted to I wanted it to keep me engaged, and have it be fun. I don't know that you can use the word fun in research I tried. And, and also have it be you can only tell stories, best the stories that you know, well. And the stories I knew well. We're working with students, with students of color, specifically, as they came through four years of development and in education, and then after they graduated. So when I thought about what I wanted to research and what what I wanted to spend a lot of time and heart on. It was with the students and alumni, actually, and these co researchers were alumni from the years 2005 to 2018. I kept in touch with them all of those years, dinners and chats and walks and adventures and really had gotten to see them through many years of change and, and identity work. So my I had several proposals for dissertation before it actually landed on this one. That's probably the case with A lot of people, but um, but out of relationship and love, I so wanted to tell the story of these folks that came through a lot of experience, and we're making changes in the world that I so admired. And I wanted to do it in a way where it felt like we were family coming together over the course of a few months. And certainly over the course of the year that I was writing this up. So um, so that drove the methodology, being in relationship, telling stories, being accountable to each other, creating environments where we could ask hard questions of ourselves, and of each other, and honoring the wisdom that they all brought. And it came together really beautifully. Because we loved being with each other. We love telling stories. And over the course of the two to three months that we conducted the research of talking and sharing stories, we saw each other through many changes and the methodology of a visual relational narrative inquiry, using images and stories. And using larger narratives as, as a means of making meaning just felt really natural. That's how we conducted our relationship, even before we could call it a dissertation research. So that's how we came to the methodology. And I have to, I have to give a shout out to my influences, Kelly Clark Keefe and the Rubenstein school. The the many authors, Robin kimmerer, and Gregory kahit. De and so many people that were part of the story and seen and unseen ways. It's a huge network. And I think that's part of a qualitative research is for me, is that it's not just when I sit down and crunch data, but it's all of my experience that bears meaning to what I'm trying to make sense of at the time.

Jenni 12:13

I love that response I've been involved in pulled into not unwillingly some grant writing, and to do grant writing, you need to tell people what you're going to do in advance. And it's difficult to for me to, to do that we're going to do this in advance, but also hold that space for the emergent methodology in the emergent design and make everyone or try to make everyone on the grant team comfortable with that idea that, that in a really good qualitative research project like yours, the methodology does emerge with the work as opposed to often the other way around. So beautiful example of it. Thank you.

QR SIG AD 12:58

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Jenni 13:52

I'm really curious about you have a strike through in your title that that caught my eye immediately. There are some words that aren't sticking through and then there are words that are stricken through and in particular, the words that are stricken through our natural resources, environmental education and place based learning. Can you talk about why strike through there and what what you wanted to communicate? And how other people have reacted to those strike? throughs?

Marie 14:22

Yeah, yeah. Um, so those terms on the in the field of environmental education, those are the most popular terms to describe anybody that is interested in the environment. And those are the names of the programs that are really popular related to that. So there's a familiarity of that. Oh, okay. So we're going to talk about these fields. And those all three of those terms have a colonialist and imperialist history to it, and it extractive history to it. So natural resources is extraction from the natural world where that the land is the source of goods and services. Environmental Education, writ large is connecting people to the land. And it was coined at a time where it felt really novel, to call it environmental education where environmental education had been happening for millennia, anybody who was living on the land was doing environmental education, and then place based education as, as a pedagogy. I had always had questions about what place whose place? How deep, are you going to ask those questions about history of place and connect and relationship to place. So I wanted to trouble all of that, to bring your eye to bring a reader's eye to those terms, and what those terms meant to them, and then putting a line right through them to say, you know, we're not, we're going to trouble this a lot. And I'm hoping to add hope to, you know, just pull the rug out from under some folks a little bit. But also demonstrate that we are going to go to some places where, you know, when you see something crossed out, it kind of gives you a little bit of a shock. And I find in my work that that little instability is actually that tension can actually be a really great site for learning if you're open to it. So that's the invitation.

Jenni 16:39

I love it. I might have to connect with you after this podcast, absolutely. Questions and even some resources. So you're a fabulous source. So I'm just going to ask you about what inspired you to do the dissertation? And maybe that's still a valid question, or a good question to be asking, given everything you've shared so far, far, I'd also be interested in hearing beyond your career and your professional interest, if there's anything personal that really drove you to doing this dissertation.

Marie 17:21

Sure. Um, so I've actually been thinking, I don't know how far back we want to go. But I have been thinking it's I did, um, my graduate work a Master's of education at the University of Buffalo, in, in higher ed. And out coming out of that, I knew that I wanted to do a doctorate at some point. And, you know, of course, I'm the kind of person that just sort of follows my nose and flies by the seat of my pants. So back then back in the 90s, when I graduated, like, oh, international education, that sounded like a good doctorate, and then I hold on to that for a little bit, and then let that go. And so that the the wanting to study more and study more deeply had always been there, especially if you work in higher education, it's, it's in the water, in some ways, it's kind of an expectation. And after my master's degree, I'd worked at a couple of different institutions, or during my master's degree, I've worked at a couple of institutions. So one of them was Naropa Institute, now Naropa University. And it's the only Buddhist inspired institution in the country. And so imagine, my very first day on the job, I was in tea ceremony for six hours. So that's education. That's incredible. You can get a bachelor's degree in transcendental meditation and these disciplines that coming out of higher ed, I didn't know you could study these things. So that was one experience. And then, for four years after graduate work, I worked at the Savannah College of Art and Design. And while I can't claim to be an artist, the way that these students are artists, it really underscored for me how sharing knowledge can happen in so many different ways. And that getting lost in a medium. When students would tell me they were up for four days straight putting their exhibition together, that kind of experience. I envied, you know, to be so steeped in what you loved. Doing and doing it in an experiential way, not just reading and not just with your head, but with your entire body in many ways. I'm finding just the questions that you asked me Jen and finding that those are those are really profound influences on what I how I wanted to manage my my doctoral work. And then in 20,000, in 2010, when I finally had time to take some graduate work, I took a class with Dr. Corinne Gladney on qualitative research and data analysis. And poetry could be data, what? poetic transcription, drama, really all of these things, images, paintings could be data and analyzes data. So that really got me going. And things percolate for me. So all of these streams of artistic and arts based kind of methods and looking at data and graduate work is beyond just doing the scientific method data and collecting data, and then analyzing it and putting it into five chapters of a dissertation. I got the sense that I could do something much different. And so I did formally pursue the doctoral work and found people that were a bit left of conventional to talk with and, and also being situated in a school of Environment and Natural Resources, the nature connection, there are so many beautiful metaphors, and synchronicities, and, and learnings from that area of my work. It all kind of came together. So I think I might have lost the thread of what of your question, Jenni, but the journey, but there were multiple, multiple journeys, that because there's a time constraints on completing a dissertation, I needed to bring it all together, and brought it all together somehow, in questions about my own experience, in relationship with other people of color, relationship to land and sense of place. And I'm really grateful for the folks that pointed the way in terms of what qualitative research could be, and what I loved, I love the quotes from thin clendenen, that...if you're, if you're not asking more questions, after your research, you're doing it wrong. And that you fall in love with the people you are working with along the way and with the work. And I can sincerely say that this is this was a work of joy and love. It motivated me through the work. And it also compelled me to finish it in a way that honored and respected the contributions of my co researchers and everybody that was a part of, of this adventure. So all of that all of my experiences, all of the adventures and all the detours come up in this dissertation.

Jenni 23:04

I love it. There's there's so much in higher education. That that encourages segmentation and encourages only bringing in a piece of yourself or a piece of your life or a particular storyline to your research. And for some people, that's fine, the segmentation works. What I like about you is that that there's a wholeness, even as you said, the story you're telling is partial or even the story you're telling has multiple lines, and there are multiple ways you could story are coming to the dissertation. There's a sense of fullness and wholeness. And you're bringing in so many experiences and so many values and so many emotions into the work and for you, it sounds like it wouldn't be satisfying. And we certainly picked up on that as a committee as we read it. Had you not done that. So I'm grateful for your work as an exemplar.

Marie 24:03

Thanks. And if I just add one thing, I just want to name that I had the privilege of doing this as part of it, it was it was a benefit to me as as a staff person at a university. So I mean, I do want to acknowledge that if it weren't for even some of the systemic privileges that I have in this space. I wouldn't I don't know that I would have been able to travel about and, and and move in circles with this. So I mean, there are tensions with that to that, you know, the creativity that that is part of this and the magnitude of of the connections might not have happened if I was compelled to complete it in five years because I needed to find a job afterward. So I think there are those other questions I have about just a system of doctoral work where you got to get it done and you and then you got to go on to the next thing. I think that's that can hamper some people.

Jenni 25:05

No doubt. So following that, what advice or suggestions then would you share with graduate students who are writing a dissertation? like yours or otherwise?

Marie 25:20

Yeah. I was thinking about this question last night. And my head went immediately to Oh, bullet points and all of these things and you know, straight strategies and tips and people. And and then I remember that last summer, so june of 2020, I taught a course, to graduate students called epistemological plurality, or multiple ways of knowing. And, and I had 10, masters students masters in the leadership for sustainability at University of Vermont, and then 10 doctoral students from our college of education and social services. And because I was deep into writing my dissertation, I was all about relationality and authentic dissertation. And really, honoring that this body, our individual bodies are the site of knowledge and data and research as well. So I had no idea how I was going to conduct the class with 20 graduate students with Masters and PhD level students. But at the center of it was that each of them are crucial sites of knowledge and crucial sites of experience. So over the course of those six weeks, they were their primary teacher and learner in that experience, I, I shared my thoughts, I shared resources, I gave them prompting questions, but it was really up to them to engage their own learning, where there were no boundaries, there were there were expectations that they would engage with each other and engage with their work, but no particular deadlines to produce anything. And when you take off those, the if you when you offer that freedom, and to express their their exploration, and their their questions and learning in ways that showed up, like music, and drawing, and bookmaking and gardening, oh my gosh, the energy that comes out of that the synergies that come out of that. So my suggestion to graduate students would be to where you can find the the spaces that really strengthen your own internal muscles, engaging the work that you want to do. When you really honor that you do know what you need to do. And there are coaches along the way, but you you're driving the bus and find the Find the language that works best for you. If music is your language, find that if drawing is your language, find that poetry and images are my language. Those are the suggestions that I would make to graduate students. You know, a couple of the practical things. There's, you know, graduate writing centers, and other graduate students that can can inspire and also motivate if I didn't have our Graduate Writing Center as a space where I needed to really focus on my computer and write, I don't I think I might still be writing. So that dissertation, but um, but those are some of the things was there another part of the question about suggestions for reading was that

Jenni 29:11

Yeah, absolutely. I would be interested in for people who might be specifically interested in your focus area, your content area, as well as your methodological approach. What recommendations might you give to them for readings that really inspired you and your work?

Marie 29:31

Sure, um so you know, the default I'm looking at my my list of notes and the the people that I will name all have doctor in front of them. Before I get to that list of folks. There are there were there were so many people and and more than human folks that were resources for me. So you know, I want to acknowledge The land I want to acknowledge the, the elders indigenous and and others that graciously gave their time to me I want to I want to acknowledge the other other people that are devoted to these questions, but not in any educational or programmatic sense. And I am going to cite one article. And it's called how to cite like a badass tech feminist scholar of color. And the point of this is unsettling existing research practices by centering indigenous Asian and black feminist perspectives. And as resources I would encourage graduate students or anybody that wants to kind of go off trail for a little bit, is to look for the sources that have been historically erased or diminished. They're not going to show up in peer reviewed journals. They're not going to show up on the reading list of the majority of your professors. It requires a little bit more work and some deeper questions, but it makes the journey so much richer. So having said that, and I think the other programs that I look to look to are the masters of leadership for sustainability at UVM has a group of affiliates that span so many different disciplines and practices. They are inspiring and how they move in the world and ask these questions. Dr. Carolyn Finney, Gregory kahit de and Robin wall kimmerer. Lenny Strobel, who is a Filipino scholar in California and helped me connect to my own Filipino heritage. I mentioned Corinne Gladney, and Kelly Clark Keefe. And the books that I had on my desk all the time, where research is ceremony by Dr. Shawn Wilson decolonizing methodologies by Dr. Linda Smith, I see that on a lot of graduate student desks, and then the authentic dissertation by four arrows or Don Trent Jacobs, those really were inspiring. And it held me up when I thought that am I doing this right? Should I be doing this at all? Is anybody going to pay any attention? They really kept me on track.

Jenni 32:39

Fabulous, I'm so glad this is being recorded. Otherwise, I'd be madly scribbling. So right now, I have many more videos. Oh, yeah. Well, you send them maybe we can attach them to the, to the podcast. So right now you are currently an assistant dean at the University of Vermont. Can you talk about your career path a little bit and your decision to get a PhD and maybe offer any tips to those who are seeking both academic and administrative careers in higher education?

Marie 33:28

It's interesting, because I'm just thinking through what what my what my career path was, I shared a little bit about it. And I really, if I were to really encapsulate what my journey was, I just followed the the questions that I loved and the people that I loved. And that happened to land me in higher education. It happened to land me at places like Savannah College of Art and Design and the University of Vermont and, and the Rubenstein School of environment natural resources. I think the experiences that were most helpful it were learning how to get to know people, part of my graduate education at the University of Buffalo, which doesn't exist as a program anymore, is understanding higher ed administration. And there was also a component of that where we learned how to be counselors. And we understood or at least explored the psychology and different methods of understanding how people make meaning and move in the world. And I think for anybody that's pursuing a career career where you're working with people. And when you're working with minds, especially 18 to 27 year old, and I don't even want to bound that in a particular age group. being interested in people, and being interested in how people behave, and what's important to them individually and collectively, has been really important to me in my, in my work and in my career and how I interact with folks. So I think if I were to lay each of my jobs beside each other, that focus on people place in purpose has been the through line across all of those from the from the time that I was an admissions counselor as a graduate student on up now where I work with student services and advising and working with staff on how to staff development in terms of professional development and seeking strategies and opportunities to, to, to, to work better. In some ways, I feel like I want to open a bottle of wine and talk more collectively and in relationship with other people about what that what career means, what work means what it means to work in higher education. And I think higher education is changing so much now, that the path into higher education, I'm not quite sure the traditional ways are getting the degree and applying for the job and understanding the mechanics and the politics of higher education. But I think, and I'm going completely off script with what was my notes? I think, what, what the moment that we have right now is really asking ourselves, what is the value of learning? And is it learning at a university? Or is it learning in some other way that I can contribute to my community contribute to the challenges that face us, and those challenges are huge, their environmental, and their social, and from my perspective, people at the edges, people of marginalized identities are bearing the brunt of a lot of these changes right now. So I'm in this moment, I'm, I'm less interested in career in higher education, and more interested in a pursuit in life that actually will contribute to life and living. If that's how your education, that's great, if that's some other venue, go for it. And I think the possibilities, we are yet to be discovered.

Jenni 37:52

I love that I'm going a little off script to I have the privilege and the honor to have met a doctoral student who I'm working with right now, who is a career current career counselor at a university and getting their doctoral degree. And they are very interested in the ways in which the university does or does not function as a compassionate or as a caring climate. And so, a lot of the things you're saying or resonating with me about it may not just be that learning can happen differently, or that higher education may not be the only path the most joyful path to learning. But that higher education in and of itself, needs to shift needs to make some shifts needs to do some deep reflection about the kinds of relationships that it currently makes possible. And the ones that it can and should and nurture and the ways in which that nurturing can happen.

Marie 39:01

Mm hmm. Yes. So and you know, that I, I talked with students about internal locus of control, that's a student affairs can kind of term and in heartwood is that the metaphor that I use where the the heartwood is the thing that actually keeps a tree, upright and upright doesn't necessarily mean stuck straight, but at least having that foundation within oneself that you know, that when you bend in the wind or in certain forces, that you're going to come back up in some measure. And I, you know, I'll say, you know, to kind of bring it full circle is the, when it was clear to me that qualitative research could provide the flexibility and the grounding and the integrity that I needed to ask the questions and make the Explorations that I wanted to It also demonstrated to me that if there are a number of us within the system of higher education, exploring these lines of thought, and conducting methodologies that are within integrity and relationship, that we might actually shift to the experience of higher education for a lot of people, whether we're explicit about it or not, exactly, you know, whether we're, yes, I like to use the word subversion, subvert the status quo and subvert the systems that aren't serving. Well. So nice.

Jenni 40:38

Well the last thing I think people listening to this podcast would be really interested to hear is, what do you what are you engaging and thinking with now? What is your work look like now? And how can people get access to it?

Marie 40:55

It's, I'm laughing, because when I was writing my dissertation, the last, you know, few years, I'd say, Well, I can't do that. Because I'm doing this dissertation. Like, I'll get to that after I'm done. And everybody was sort of, Okay, well, let's make sure Marie has time and space to do this. And then when I was done, like, okay, now that you finished, can you do this, this, this and this, and all things that I was really excited about. But ironically, I, I'm feeling like, Oh, where did all of my time go that I said, I would have after I finished writing. But so what I'm doing is them. Because the dissertation, the work of that I'm still in relationship with all of those core researchers, we keep in touch. And that work is so foundational integral and consistent with what I do at University of Vermont. Right now, in real time, where I'm working with the Rubenstein school, in asking questions about how to be a more inclusive place. How to look at the curriculum and make changes to the curriculum, how do we change processes for undergrad and graduate students so that they do feel more supported as they pursue their degrees. So there's that work and doing similar work with organizations that are environmentally related, like fish and wildlife, and our Vermont agency of natural resources. So there's that I'm getting more involved with the Masters for leadership and sustainability here at UVM, that I mentioned earlier. And that's a really liberatory radical, love centered graduate program. So anybody listening, please look at that. And you'll see a lot of what I'm talking about here. Talking with the CO researchers, because qualitative research, I think, in its best, in the best of times, has ripple effects, so that the CO researchers have taken the experience that we had a couple of years ago, and are finding themselves talking about it or learning from it even now, in their different contexts. So I'm curious about those ripple effects of that work. So I'm gonna convene those co researchers over tea and find out what's up with their lives. Leadership practices, and really interested in leadership practices, and facilitation, facilitating, learning and working spaces that are decolonizing, anti racist,and joyful. And then the last thing I'll say that it is immediate. I've been involved with three organizations over the last few years that I'd really love to spend more time with. And I attend an elders gathering each year, where elders from across the globe, talk about their wisdom, share their wisdom, so I'll be doing that this weekend. There's a center for Bobby lon studies based in California that is about Filipino indigenous spirituality. So I'll be spending more time with that. And people of the global majority in the outdoors Environment and Natural Resources is also a national organization that I'd like to spend more time getting to know. And then on the lighter side of things, playing on the water, tending to my garden, picking lots of berries, because it's that time of year. So and having wonderful conversations, I hope with with you, Jenni, again, and with anyone else who's listening to this podcast, I don't have a website. I need to create one. But please feel free anyone to reach out to me. I'm happy to share my dissertation and thoughts. I have conducted a few workshops and, and video videos that you can find on YouTube that I haven't consolidated into one place. But happy to share that too if you reach out to me, and then reaching out to me that isn't in integrity with building relationships. So I love to talk with people that are interested with this.

Jenni 45:23

Fabulous Do you if someone were interested in reaching out to you, how would they do that?

Marie 45:29

Yes, so you can email me at marie.vea@uvm.edu

Jenni 45:38

Thank you so much for your time today, Maria. It's been a joy and a pleasure. And I strongly encourage all of our listeners to engage your work because it was certainly transformative for me, as I am sure it will be for many others.

Marie 45:59

Thank you so much, Jenni and I sincerely hope we'll talk again soon.

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