Writing for justice project transforms into a video series

UC students create a ‘Stay In, Speak Out’ platform on YouTube to voice social justice messages

The spring semester of 2020 was to be the first time that Robert Hyland taught Writing for Justice in the Department of English at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Arts and Sciences. The course objective was, in part, to teach undergraduates majoring in English and environmental studies how the written word could be used to positively impact injustices they see in the world, whether the injustice be local, national or global. The final assignment was to write a speech that students would then present in an appropriate forum on campus or throughout the city, such as at a session of student government or as part of a community council meeting.

It would have been easy for Hyland, an associate professor and educator in the Rhetoric and Professional Writing program at UC, to simply require students to turn in their speeches and be done.

Given COVID-19 and the transition to remote learning, plans had to change and Hyland took a different, and more impactful, route by working with the students to create a YouTube channel called “Stay In, Speak Out,” where students could publish their orated speeches for an online audience. 

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/Jl4IQVaX4bo?rel=0

Students were encouraged to leverage current events and discuss how COVID-19 was amplifying the injustices they had chosen to write about prior to the pandemic.

“The videos are reflective of students who want to make positive change in their community today,” Hyland says of the short films which highlight how students feel about topics such as food insecurity, housing discrimination or xenophobia, specifically during a pandemic and is a prime example of UC's commitment to making an urban impact, as outlined in the university's strategic direction, Next Lives Here

This channel is one of many instances in which people have utilized the (mostly) all-encompassing global unity that is this pandemic's silver lining to illuminate what has been neglected and forgotten.

Jack Davidson senior and English major

Seniors Jack Davidson and Abigail Magoffin co-wrote a speech on affordable housing. “Many of the topics that my classmates and I chose to write about were issues that existed long before the pandemic but are more apparent when the norms of society are disrupted,” says Magoffin, adding, “Our hopes as a class are that these conversations will continue to live on past the pandemic so that we do not merely write about justice but actualize it.”  

This channel is one of many instances in which people have utilized the (mostly) all-encompassing global unity that is this pandemic's silver lining to illuminate what has been neglected and forgotten, says Davidson. 

Nina Payiatis’ speech focused on childhood poverty and the closing of state institutions during the pandemic which are vital to the support of children in need. The videos, she says, not only gave students an appropriate forum to use the principles they had been working on all semester, but also allowed them to use their voices to speak on the issues that matter most to them.

“It was strange having moved all of our classes to online platforms," Payiatis says, "but the project seemed appropriate given the circumstances. And when first given the project proposal, I was excited that our class would actually be able to apply some of the principles we’ve learned in class to something so prevalent.” 

ariel photo of the College of Arts and Sciences building

Robert Hyland teaches in the Department of English, in the UC College of Arts and Sciences . Photo/UC Creative + Brand

Professor Hyland says he is proud of how the students adapted to the video format and is leaving the channel open for future video projects. The channel, he says, is a great example of students being #BoldlyBearcat despite the challenges arising from the public health crisis that is COVID-19.

“The students remained engaged and passionate, and ended up creating something that we hope will gain some traction in terms of viewership,” Hyland says. “This way, even when we are able to put COVID-19 behind us, we’ll have established a forum for talking about the injustices that persist in our communities. And, maybe, we’ll start to get serious about ending those injustices.”

Visit the “Stay In, Speak Out” YouTube channel.


Featured image at top: Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

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