Pamplin Media Group – Social awareness project seeks to break down barriers
GFU faculty challenge students to connect with the community and de-stigmatize societal labels
It is every teacher’s dream that their students take what they learn in the classroom and use it to make the world a better place.
That’s what Amanda Staggenborg, professor of public relations at George Fox University, and Marvin Eans, professor of graphic design, had in mind when they gave their students a cross-class social awareness project.
The goal: to tell the stories of people harmed by stereotypes and societal labels.
The subjects, Staggenborg and Ean decided, had to be local.
“It’s a life-changing moment, to really see another person,” Staggenborg said.
Students from Staggenborg’s Intercultural Communication class and Eans’ Print and Digital Layout class divided into eight groups, each choosing their own label to de-stigmatize.
Staggenborg students conducted research and interviewed the subjects, while Eans students visually communicated the group’s arguments.
Although this is the first year that Staggenborg and Eans have collaborated on the project, the labels have been tracking Eans for decades.
“I took care of it personally,” Eans said.
Growing up, her father struggled with mental health issues and alcoholism. When Eans’ parents divorced, his father was left homeless.
“We would see it bouncing back from different types of housing programs,” Eans said. “But it was one of those things where he was still my dad.”
Eans’ father died last year, but through it all, Eans knew his father loved his family.
“It’s just sometimes people have these challenges and they become a different person when they’re under these influences, like alcohol,” Eans said. “But I know who he really is, (and he) is not those things.”
He added that the aim of the project was for students to learn to see “people as they are through the prism of empathy”.
“Are we really empathetic today? Eans said, referring to controversial issues such as the pandemic, religion and politics that continue to create divisions in the country and around the world.
“This (project) is a great opportunity to explore that idea,” Eans said, and to give students “the freedom to engage (with concepts) outside of the classroom.”
Two groups chose to focus on the stigma surrounding homelessness.
One group’s project focused on the power of rhetoric and the impact it can have on a person’s self-image.
“The words we choose to speak are powerful,” said cross-cultural communication student Amy Hatter, adding that the term “homeless” carries a lot of shame.
Hatter’s group partnered with Love Inc. on the project, which connected them with “Janet”, a 74-year-old woman participating in the organization’s transitional housing program.
Contrary to stereotypes of homelessness, Hatter’s group learned that Janet had lived a long and successful life before losing her home due to rising rents.
The wife of a late pastor, the group described her as smart, warm and a woman of strong faith who saw transitional housing as more than just shelter, but also a sanctuary and place to grow.
“How can we change the language we use to paint the homeless community in a different light?” said Hatter.
To help redefine the public perception of homelessness, designers created brochures, posters and fanny packs using warm, friendly palettes that evoke positive feelings, such as stability, comfort and hope.
The second group focusing on homelessness learned with empathy from people’s stories before judging them. They asked around 50 people the first word that came to mind when they thought of the homeless. Almost all responses were negative, with 24% of survey participants reporting addiction and 21% reporting Portland as first words.
“People see this as a very particular situation” where all homeless people end up living on the streets for the same reasons, said cultural communication student Antonio Arredondo.
To prove this assumption wrong, the group listened to homeless life stories through the Portland Rescue Center website.
“I think listening to personal stories and…putting a face and a name and a story on a certain issue can make it (homelessness) so much more human,” Arredondo said, adding that “often when you’re driving by Portland and you see tents, you’re not going to think about how people got there, you’re going to think, “Oh my God, look at those people. It could be such a beautiful, beautiful city (without them there). ”
“A single project is not going to completely overhaul the entire system,” Arredondo said. “It’s not realistic. But even just raising awareness in our class a little bit can help.”
One group chose to focus specifically on the mental health of athletes, whose members, who are all current or former athletes themselves, said that not enough is talked about or prioritized as much as physical health.
“You’re a student athlete – you’re expected to have more work to do,” said Ty Davis, print and digital layout student. “You’re supposed to get through it because you’re supposed to know what you’re getting into. But that doesn’t take away the stress factor.”
The group interviewed several college athletes from GFU and other universities, finding that while the interviewees all had their own individual stories, they faced similar challenges in maintaining good mental health.
“We want to reverse that stigma (that surrounds athlete mental health),” David said, hoping the project will encourage people to “be more willing to be open about it.”
Another group’s project focused on student mental health, arguing that people should take depression or other mental issues as seriously as physical injuries.
Yet another group discussed hidden disabilities, which included mental health issues like PTSD, but also hearing loss, nerve damage and other conditions that aren’t immediately visible.
“It’s harder for people who have a hidden disability to get help,” said Beth Wegener, a cross-cultural communication student. “People will often say they’re faking it or it’s all in their head, or they don’t really have it.”
The print and digital layout students in the group designed stickers and other artwork to resemble the colors of the handicap signs.
A sticker read: “Disabled is not a bad word”.
Other group projects have focused on the stigma surrounding working women, diabetes and conspiracy theorists.
The first group explained that women who are assertive at work are often seen as authoritarian, unlike their male counterparts, who are seen to have leadership qualities.
Graphic designers have created artwork that co-opts the word bossy and puts a positive spin on it, as seen in their postcards that read “She’s bossy” and “She’s the boss.”
The diabetes group countered the misconception that people with the disease are lazy or always responsible for their diagnoses. Describing the differences between type I, type II and gestational diabetes, group members explained that the disease usually develops due to genetic factors, not just poor diet and lack of exercise. .
They interviewed three GFU athletes with diabetes, and all reported the judgment of others who often assume that the breaks they need to take during practices and games to monitor their blood sugar are attempts to slack off or signs that are not good players.
The group of conspiracy theorists, who interviewed a combination of GFU staff and students holding beliefs against the status quo, cautioned people against pejorative use of the term.
Members of the group explained that calling people conspiracy theorists further alienates individuals with unconventional views and makes them fear that if they share those views they will be deemed uncredible in other areas of life. their life.
To encourage dialogue, instead of an immediate dismissal, the graphic design team created a t-shirt design that reads: “Ask me for my theory on government”.
Due to the overall success and enjoyment of the project, Staggenborg and Eans hope to repeat it next year.
“(The project) went beyond a mission,” Eans said. “Everyone was in their element, they were passionate about their subject and it didn’t feel like a mission anymore.”
Staggenborg added that “it really is a highlight for their college experience and for the year. Instead of remembering college as stressful and (consisting of) papers and studying, they can say they did something that really connects with the human spirit.”
Staggenborg also said she wished she had the chance to do a project like this when she was a student.
“It felt a bit like what college is supposed to be,” Staggenborg said.