Indiana University Media School students Emma Hamilton and Karli Van Cleave set up a video camera for an interview on January 28 at the Lotus Arts and Education building. It’s the fifth interview of the day with Lotus festival volunteers. The students are tasked with the challenge of producing a video to showcase positive stories of volunteerism, unity and peace within the community.
The students’ video is part of “Stories of Peace,” a project designed to connect students with community partners to document stories of positive action happening in Bloomington. Katie Beck, director of experiential education at the Media School, says the mission of the project stems from Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. “We framed it as a ‘Stories of Peace’” project in honor of Martin Luther King Jr's birthday, so thinking about ways that this community here in Bloomington, Indiana exemplifies some of those ideals of peaceful coexistence, nonviolent communication, and what Dr. King called “The Beloved Community,” she says.
Partnering with the Community
Under Beck’s supervision, each student team will create a project with their assigned community partner to highlight the positive impact the organization has had on Bloomington. The project is in conjunction with the City of Bloomington’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration Commission.
This year’s partners are the Lotus arts and Education Foundation, My Sister's Closet of Monroe County, Rogers Elementary School, and Harmony Middle School. The project start date was January 15, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with the final screening scheduled for 40 days later on February 24.
For the Lotus project, the Media School students Hamilton and Van Cleave will explore how the organization relies on 500+ volunteers to pull off an international music festival each fall. Tamara Loewenthal, volunteer coordinator and new facility manager of Lotus, has been working with the students to set up interviews. Loewenthal jumped on the project after noticing the lack of video content on the Lotus website dedicated to the volunteers. “I was, like, this would be such a great testimonial to be, like, ‘what is it about Lotus?’ ‘Why do you want to volunteer for this organization?’ ‘What does it give to you, and what does doing it give to the community?’” she says.
So far, Loewenthal is impressed with the work of the student team assigned to the Lotus video. “I feel like they’re getting the passion of the organization and they’re getting the mission from the things they’re hearing as they question our volunteers,” she says.
Loewenthal also feels that the mission of Lotus connects well with the Stories of Peace project and with Martin Luther King Jr.’s mission for peace, equality and justice. “In so many ways, the Lotus vision is to educate people, to expose people, to many different cultures, many different skin colors,” she says.
Community and Career-building
The project is entirely voluntary for both community partners and students, and Beck hopes the experience will help the media students gain professional skills and an appreciation for life outside of campus. “There's a lot going on just on campus, and it can be hard to find ways to build those bridges outside of campus, so it's a great chance for them to connect directly with some of the great organizations we have working in our community,” she says.
While many of the stories will address injustice and intolerance in Bloomington, Beck insists that the tilt of the “Stories of Peace” projects is positive. One of the student teams, for instance, will produce a public service announcement with Harmony Middle School about homelessness in Bloomington. “The chance for our students to look at those issues, and then also in collaboration with younger students, I think is a really unique opportunity for them to dive into a social issue, making stories and a media project about those social issues,” Beck says.
Dr. King’s Legacy
Even though the organizations involved in ‘Stories of Peace,’ and their missions are diverse, all of the finished projects will honor Dr. King’s legacy in some way, Beck says.“I think the underlying message is that we all individually, each of us, has a role in in deciding how we're going to approach the world around us, how we're going to treat other people on a day-to-day basis.”
The students are wrapping up their projects now, and the experience has inspired some of them to find their own place in the community and discover what it means to make a difference through storytelling and volunteering.
Media school student Emma Hamilton says that, prior to this project, her media experience was in TV entertainment and film. After working on the ‘Stories of Peace” project, however, Hamilton says she has a newfound appreciation for telling true, local stories.“For me it’s been like very humbling to be like, you should focus on like real people in like the real world, and that’s been really great,” she says.
Beyond professional insights, Hamilton says the experience has also given her a view into the positive effects of volunteerism to transform a community.“What am I doing with my life? Like what should I be like focusing on to make the community a better place?” she says.
The screening of the “Stories of Peace” projects will take place Saturday, February 24 at 7 p.m. in Franklin Hall at Indiana University Bloomington.