The Tulane Hullabaloo

New course explores local culture through digital media lens

The Taylor Center

The Taylor Center

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“Beyond Neutral Ground: Root Culture and Civic Media in New Orleans” is a new course that encourages students to learn more about root culture in New Orleans and think critically about higher education.

The class, offered by the Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking, encourages students to address issues such as how colleges and universities interact with cultures in a community, how knowledge is represented and created, and how the digital humanities can be used as a way to communicate knowledge.

The course is led by professors Vicki Mayer and Rebecca Mark and is cross-listed in English, Communication and the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship minor. Approximately 15 students were hand-picked to join the class in order to have a group with a broad range of cultural and educational backgrounds.

There is no rubric for the course. Grades are based on collaboration, service-learning and community engagement. Students who succeed in the class are able to make projects and communicate knowledge in a way that includes, respects and responds to a variety of community needs.

“There is no roadmap to getting an A in being a public intellectual,” Mayer said. “You just become one over the course of talking to more people and processing it through the skills and knowledge that you have and giving it back for other people to respond to.”

Through teamwork, discussion, media production, service-learning and guest interviews, students learn how to engage in a dialogue about root culture and how to develop new ways of representing the diverse voices of the community. Junior Christian Colletti said the class helped him gain a deeper understanding of the New Orleans community.

“In this class we explore the micro-level of what goes on in New Orleans and its history that 99 percent of people at Tulane wouldn’t be aware of,” Colletti said.

Students improve on skills such as listening, interviewing and digital media production. Mayer said she hopes that students become less afraid to cross boundaries of difference and understand that everyone has a story and become less afraid to share their own.

Students explore topics such as the value of African diasporic traditions in New Orleans and the importance of women in this culture. The class is split into three parts: Immersion in Root Culture, Conversations with Community Artists and Sharing Our Stories. Guest speakers include community experts and artists such as Cherice Harrison-Nelson from Guardians of the Flame and Marissa Joseph from Mojo Bounce Studio.

The digital media aspect of the class allows students to improve their social media and digital skills to find new ways of circulating knowledge in the community. Most of the assignments involve a digital humanities aspect such as taking videos and photographs, recording audio and interviewing New Orleans citizens.

Course activities allow students to learn about and experience New Orleans in a new way. After just a month of taking the class, Colletti said he feels much more connected to New Orleans on a cultural and emotional level.

“Assignments in this class are much different than a typical college course,” Colletti said. “The assignments require you to come out of your shell and get deep into the culture aspects of New Orleans and the people that know it in ways most people don’t.”

The course encourages students to think about how higher education experience intersects with the community and the ways that higher education can be transformed. Students learn about what it means to be a culturally knowledgeable person and how to represent knowledge in culture.

Margaux Armfield

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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans
New course explores local culture through digital media lens