Using Visual Storytelling for Civic Engagement and Social Justice
“Statements like ‘So this is what Bishkek looks like!’ were common,” says Stepan, documentary filmmaker and Director of the Picker Center Digital Education Group, an OSUN partner at Columbia University. “And this is something that probably wouldn’t have happened with strictly Zoom-based discussions,” he adds.
Over three weeks, Stepan and fellow filmmaker Sean Steinberg trained students in Annandale, Berlin, Palestine, and Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), to use inexpensive tools, such as smartphones, to create “digital case studies” of the research and civic engagement projects they undertook for OSUN network courses such as “Human Rights Advocacy” and “Global Citizenship.”
Audiovisual case studies documenting work around social justice issues—which were not only produced by the class but also used to teach it—are very effective tools for online learning, as they provide students with a “real world” connection that facilitates meaningful class discussion, according to Stepan. In addition to acquiring the skills needed for successful field production, students were trained in basic video editing and participated in a final video festival drawing on work from all the classes involved.
“Despite the huge challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, students were able to work and collaborate in incredibly creative ways,” says Stepan. “The films themselves were also very powerful.”
Living with a Disability in Bishkek, created by students Ulukbek Batyrgaliev and Shigofa Jamal at American University of Central Asia and co-winner of the video festival’s social impact award, tells the compelling stories of people facing accessibility challenges in Kyrgyzstan’s capital city.
In the video, wheelchair user Gulbarchyn Isaeva describes the grave problems she faces due to a lack of ramps in public spaces. “Last year when I got pregnant, I wasn’t able to register in the hospital,” she says from her cramped apartment. “Doctors tried to persuade me not to give birth. Unfortunately, I had a miscarriage—I think more because of stress,” says Isaeva.
“There are many other things (in addition to ramps) that would make the city accessible to wheelchair users, pregnant women, the elderly, and more,” says Aiperi Aralbaeva, another subject in the video, who advocates for the rights of women with disabilities with the group Nazyk Kyz (Mama Cash). “The only thing is to ask us, and we will answer with what we need and how it should be done.”
Bring Them Home: The Fight for Clemency, produced by Bard College student Seamus Heady and winner of the video festival’s cinematography award, chronicles the advocacy efforts of a group seeking a pardon for Gregory Mingo, incarcerated for 40 years in Great Meadow Correctional Facility for a crime he maintains he did not commit. While Mingo was not granted clemency in 2020, the grassroots team of family, friends and activists depicted in the video continues to advocate for his release.
Berlin College Engagement in Forced Migration, created by Imani Faber, Camila Rosales, Carla Schwingler and Milica Vuvic of Bard College Berlin, consists of interviews with students living in Berlin who are refugees from Syria and Iraq, as well as members of a student-led initiative that helps asylum seekers navigate European legal systems as they try to secure citizenship.
Black at Bard, produced by Bard student Hakima Alem and winner of the festival’s People’s Choice Award, centers on Bard College senior Tatyana Rozetta and Theater & Performance professor, Nilaja Sun, as they discuss 2020 efforts by Rozetta and four other BIPOC students to tackle problems of racial inequity in the school’s theater department. The video interviews document students’ intense labor, which motivated the department to commit to identifying avenues of implicit bias in its practices and to creating a permanent position for equity oversight.
Stepan hopes all the videos from the workshop will be used in future classes across the OSUN network. “Even when in-person learning begins again, video case studies will continue to allow students to connect to issues and cultures in ways that classroom-based teaching alone cannot. I think the fact that these cases are made by and for students helps give them a special impact and relevance.”
The Picker Center at Columbia is working to develop a new version of the class to be run in the fall of 2021, as well as a project that would enlist students trained in 2020 to create new OSUN video cases. “Ideally we can begin a virtuous cycle of training and sharing of student produced videos around the network. OSUN is a unique organization, and it has an amazing opportunity to help us all rethink how classes are taught, and how students can connect and share their learning.”
Post Date: 03-02-2021