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UofGH Media Studies students host EMERGE events
How has social media become a platform for social justice, particularly for marginalized groups? What is hashtag activism, and how does it create change? A team of fourth-year University of Guelph-Humber Media Studies students recently explored these questions as they hosted Through Media to Justice, one of a series of EMERGE events hosted by UofGH Media Studies students.
From its inception in 2013, EMERGE was historically an annual one-day conference hosted by fourth-year UofGH Media Studies students. This year, instead of one large event, student teams created several smaller events over five weeks.
Kathy Ullyott, Program Head for Media Studies, says working in smaller teams gave students the opportunity to be more involved in the process and hone their creativity. “Each student got to be more intimately involved, and had a real sense of ownership over—and engagement with – their event,” she says.
The other events were:
- ConNext, a networking event that connected media professionals and students.
- Emerge Above the Stigma, which featured a five-person panel who discussed overcoming the stigma of mental health issues while launching successful media careers.
- OnBrand, a speaker panel discussion about social media marketing, and how to enter the field.
- Yoga & Paws for a Cause, a fundraiser for the Toronto Humane Society, featuring two dog yoga workshops.
Also upcoming are the Emerge Media Awards (a dinner and ceremony presented by fourth-year Media Studies students to celebrate the winners of a national media competition), and the media studies The(sis) Symposium, organized by a group of third-year students to present fourth-year research projects.
“I was really pleased with the diversity of the EMERGE events,” says Ullyott. “They were all so different, with a broad range of issues, and a wide variety of tones and impacts.”
Through Media to Justice
Through Media to Justice featured three speakers, who all gave informative, inspiring, and personal presentations to a packed room filled with post-secondary and high school students, faculty, staff, and the community. The speakers were: Jennifer Flood, Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator at Humber College; Daniella Baretto, Digital Activism Coordinator at Amnesty International, who has worked with Black Lives Matter - Vancouver; and Holly Jarrett, founder and creator of the social media injustice campaign #AmINext, which looked at missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Flood’s opening presentation focused on sexual violence and prevention in the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp. She said it was powerful to discuss such an important topic with both high school and post-secondary students in the audience.
“It was a really remarkable experience. I love speaking with students because I learn something new every day. We’re talking about the next generation and people who use social media the most,” she says. “And being able to sit in a room with students who are engaged and who want to be active change agents and are interested in this topic—this is the culture shift we want to go to, the paradigm shift.”
Next up was Daniella Baretto, who spoke about her experience with social media activism with Black Lives Matter – Vancouver and at Amnesty International.
She says she wanted to address another side of hashtag activism in her talk—surveillance of activists and trolls. “There is a lot we can do online that creates many interesting conversations, but there’s also that risk of being watched and stopped by state actors, or trolls, so that’s something we’re not talking about a lot that should be connected with conversations about online activism,” she says.
The day’s final speaker was Holly Jarrett, who talked about her campaign #AmINext, which she launched after her cousin was found murdered.
Jarrett says that talking about lived experience could translate into real policy change.
“Lived experience may be a great connector for how to make hashtag activism go to an actual policy change, because the goal is to change the policies that create these barriers, these systemic injustices,” she says. “If that happens, and we can create lived experienced voices together with academia and researchers, then we can start to make actual movement beyond the initial campaign.”
The day concluded with an interpretive dance performance called “Untapped Potential.”
For the student team that brought Through Media to Justice to life—Jamie Vergara, Emily Tessier, Elysa Viti, Bryana Persaud, Hailey Eno, Danielle Daley, and Teanna Jame—it was gratifying to have their hard work pay off with a successful event.
Vergara says she was happy with the level of audience engagement. “You could see the students in the audience were thinking about how they themselves could make the change,” she says. “They were engaged, they were active in the conversations, and I think that’s how we measure success—the conversations between the speakers and the audience and how the event ran as smoothly as it could.”
Viti says putting together an event from start-to-finish was a great learning experience, and she encourages students who are planning events to persevere. “To any students who are trying to plan an event, I would say push through all the issues. At the end of the day you’re going to create something really amazing, you’re going to inspire people, and your hard work shows.”
Tessier says she hopes people will be inspired to share their own stories. “When Holly read her cousin’s story, she realized it was her story too—I think that speaks volumes and explains why these social media activism movements have taken off,” she says. “When someone is brave enough to share their story, other people feel ‘this is my story too,’ and there’s this strength in shared experiences. And with these stories being shared, it completely changes the perspective.”
Dr. Adam Miller, Assistant Program Head for Media Studies, commended the organizers. “I thought Through Media to Justice was well-organized, professional, and informative,” he says. “The speakers were engaging, knowledgeable about the topic, and offered attendees a nuanced look at the media's increasingly prominent role in the judicial process, particularly as this mechanism serves or, in many cases, fails to serve underrepresented groups. Organizers are to be commended for a fantastic result!”