Making Class Visible Forum March 29

Posted: February 28, 2007

Updated: April 2, 2007 - Making Class Visible Forum Opens Dialogue

Over January Term, 18 students joined Debbora Battaglia, professor of anthropology, to examine questions of social class within the Mount Holyoke community. Battaglia developed the visual anthropology course, titled Making Class Visible, in conjunction with the Multicultural Community and College Life Committee's (MCCL) 2006-2007 focus on social class at Mount Holyoke and its expression at the critical intersections of race, gender, and disability. Now, the projects developed in the J-Term course are prompting the campus to consider the cultural misconceptions and socioeconomic realities that infuse discussions of class. From posters challenging assumptions about racial and economic stereotypes to a Web site (see link below) highlighting events and resources to a documentary that will be screened at a March 29 community forum, the students' work has the campus talking.

"The projects are making a felt difference," Battaglia said. "That success reflects the depth of the students' engagement. Collectively and individually, they taught me so much through their sensitivity and complex relationship to the topic. I watched their levels of awareness deepen and, in fact, there are students whose involvement with the projects did not stop at the end of January Term."

Among those students are Courtney Cioffredi '08 and Caroline Nobo '08, who together created the Making Class Visible Web site with Cioffredi assuming the ongoing role of webmaster for the site. Another is Megumi Yoshida '09, one of three students who subsequently arranged an independent study to continue editing hours of interview footage into a video that chronicles the lived experience of individuals and cultural groups at Mount Holyoke. Yoshida, who is working with coeditors Brittany Estes-Gaudette '09, and Rachel Bickel '08, was attracted to the course because of her interest in anthropology and media studies. "During J-Term, we found out just what a tension-filled subject social class is. So, we hope the movie generates discussion. Our aim is, in the words of Professor Battaglia, to 'show ourselves to ourselves.' We want to break down stereotypes so that MHC students, faculty, and staff can better understand each other," Yoshida said.

As with a growing number of MHC courses, technology played a significant role in Making Class Visible. Battaglia is grateful for the resources available to students through the library and for the generosity of the Offices of the Dean of the College and Dean of the Faculty, and the Inclusiveness Initiatives Fund. "We were able to purchase videotapes and DVDs that we used for editing, and to finance both the student and staff poster campaigns," she noted. "We also brought in experts from LITS to offer tutorials, as well as tips about filmmaking. I'm indebted to James Burke, instructional technology consultant; Ben Paul, media resources assistant; and Sven Aas, MHC webmaster, for their support. Tekla McInerney, director of publications in the Office of Communications, also provided valuable assistance, as did Jenny Perlin, Five College Visiting Artist in Film Studies, who shared insights about film editing."

All the Making Class Visible projects were created with the entire MHC community in mind. Interviews for the video were conducted with students, staff, and faculty, and part of the poster campaign was directed toward staff who might not have access to the Web site. In addition, childcare is being organized for the forum so that staff and faculty parents can easily attend the event.

Dean of the College Lee Bowie, who serves on the MCCL, believes that Battaglia's students have offered the campus community a springboard for approaching the difficult terrain of discussing class. "Through the Web site and the posters, we're being challenged to think about our own assumptions and the varied experiences of those around us. At the start of the forum, the video will help frame the issues," Bowie said. "All the projects are inviting us to look at our own class locations and how they affect our responses. This could make a real difference to the MHC community."

That, according to Battaglia, is what she and her students are hoping for. "We want the film and our other course projects to activate a dialogue," she explained. "However, we also want that dialogue to lead to meaningful social action. The first step is talking, but it's only coordinated, collective action that ultimately will move us toward structured inclusiveness, and address the insecurities and inequalities that affect our community."

The forum on Making Class Visible will be held in Chapin Auditorium on March 29 from 4 to 6 p.m.