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Media Arts for Social Justice

Gina Lamb

The Pitzer Media Studies Department has a long history of incorporating community projects into documentary courses. In the late 1990s as the department began to grow, so did its commitment to include community media as a formal part of the Media Studies curriculum. In 1999 a think tank of students and faculty met for several months to build curriculum and to research community venues. A new course, Media Arts for Social Justice (MASJ), came out of these meetings.

Students taking the course work in groups in collaboration with social service agencies, nonprofit organizations and schools to develop media projects that benefit the community participants. Projects vary from documentaries that advocate social change, teaching media production and literacy, to producing videos and Web sites for organizations that increase their capacity. While students develop and implement projects in the community they learn about ethical practice, strategies for working with diverse populations and self-evaluative critical teaching/learning. Most importantly, they learn to listen and to produce work that is larger than the sum of its makers, a work that has resonance in the importance of collaborative process.

Taking the MASJ course fulfills both the social responsibility requirement of Pitzer College and the Media Studies internship requirement. Since the Spring of 2000 it has been offered eight times as a regular part of the Pitzer Media Studies curriculum. Media Studies faculty work closely with Pitzer’s California Center for Cultural and Social Issues to develop strong relationships with community organizations and to ensure an ongoing commitment and sustainability of projects.

An example of a type of project combines creative writing with video production to offer a series of video poetry workshops to young men at Camps Afflerbaugh-Paige—a juvenile detention facility/high school La Verne, and young women at the Shamrock Cottages—a group home for adolescent girls in Claremont. Currently four students are teaching media literacy and documentary production at a new charter school in Pomona, the Academy of Culture and Technology, serving low-income immigrant youth. Students with Web design skills have worked with youths at REACH LA, a nonprofit health and arts organization in downtown Los Angeles, to produce a youth-friendly HIV education site, www.reachla.org, and two students this semester are building an organizational Web site for Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, a nonprofit advocacy organization of farmworker women. This new site, www.liderescampesinas.org, will bring visibility to a group largely marginalized by mainstream media.

Included in the list of diverse groups we have worked with through the years are: Dome Village in Los Angeles, AIDS Project, LA’s Youth Mpowerment Program, The Pomona Day Labor Center, The Women’s Multi-Media Center (founded by Pitzer alumni), Prototypes in Pomona, Hug House in Ontario, and The LA Freewaves Festival of New Media.

The success of Media Arts for Social Justice can be measured in part by former students who have entered the nonprofit sector after graduation and said that their experience in this course has given them hands-on preparation needed for working effectively in community.

Gina Lamb is the Director of Arts & Technology Programs at REACH LA, a nonprofit digital arts lab for teens that produces works in a variety of genres promoting dialogue and social activism within the Los Angeles youth community. She also teaches production and theory in the Media Studies Program at Pitzer College.

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