When Students Practice the Value of Voice

Yesterday I published a post based on my Domains17 Conference talk.  There are so many people thinking, writing, speaking critically about A Domain of One’s Own.  My aim was to talk a little about how I approach the project from a media studies background and how it might be connected to the critical social justice mission of the media & communication department where I teach.  Part of the story I was telling revolves around work that is deeply rooted in a commitment to community collaboration: the HYPE youth media program.  

For a decade, Jenna Azar and I have been creatively, boldly, sometimes defiantly working to ensure that HYPE is situated at the forefront of, and integral to, our department and campus commitments focused on critical civic engagement, student agency and voice, equity and inclusion.  We’ve held HYPE up as a model for partnership with community that is rooted in an ethics of reciprocity and recognition that such work must aim to transform our own institution as much as it imagines it is supporting positive transformation within the community.  We’ve also invited our colleagues to consider HYPE a pedagogical space that prioritizes what Michelle Fine calls “critical civic scholarship,” engaging students, ourselves, and community partners “intimately with the thick complexity of what it means to ‘do’ civic.” (Fine, 2012, p. 36).

I wrote in yesterday’s post:

Jenna and I know from teaching an advanced Youth Media course that these collaborations can generate transformative experiences for students who are interested in joining their studies in media and communication with struggles for media justice.  For many, it changes what they study, what paths they pursue after they graduate. 

Later in the evening, I got a text from Jenna, who was just returning from the Intergroup Dialogue Conference at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

Text from Jenna: The most Important Thing

It was a link to another blog post, written by a 2013 graduate who was closely connected to HYPE through the Youth Media course we team teach.  Experience with HYPE and youth media, encountering Freire and Pedagogy of the Oppressed in particular, opened up for Julie new possibilities for imagining her future.  For the first time, in her senior year of college, Julie (a scholar athlete and award-winning member of the college’s women’s basketball team) began to seriously consider becoming a teacher and towards the end of that semester she was interviewing with Teach for America.

Julie was one of the students I had in mind when I wrote the passage above.  I was thinking about the community of learners we try to create around HYPE and youth media.

It’s been four years since Julie graduated.  And on her WordPress blog, where she continues to offer a narrative of her experience as a novice teacher, she quotes Couldry’s Why Voice Matters.


Julie’s post reminds me that this work for students–hopefully–continues long after they leave campus.  That’s one of the ideals, I would say, of a liberal arts education, the habit of making connections across their studies and lived experiences.  Julie’s blog (https://youcantlearnwithoutlove.wordpress.com/) offers a narrative of her experiences as a young white teacher, first in Providence, Rhode Island and now in Philadelphia.  “I was a wide-eyed twenty-two year old…”

These glimpses of what she is doing beyond graduation, the identity she is constructing as a teacher, matter deeply.  That she continues to try to enact and embody some of the theory and principles that she encountered through HYPE four years ago is why HYPE matters on our campus.  That she sees her work as a teacher to include, centrally, practicing the value of voice, is perhaps the most powerful reminder of why voice matters.