Documentary Project Helps College of Education Doctoral Students Explore Issues, Develop New Skills

Nc State College of Education doctoral student and teaching assistant Mwenda Kudumu

Doctoral students in the NC State College of Education are finding new ways to explore educational issues in North Carolina through a film project that culminated in a public screening on Dec. 12.

Instead of writing a final paper, students in the Diversity and Equity in Schools and Communities course work in groups to produce mini-documentaries exploring the experiences of different underrepresented groups while developing the skills required to utilize multimedia platforms in their future careers.

“I look at film as a way of combining the arts because it takes in writing and it takes in photography, and it’s a way that you can use different mediums to explore complex issues,” said Associate Professor Cameron Denson, Ph.D., who teaches the course.

Mwenda Kudumu, a Ph.D. student and teaching assistant in the course, said that when she embarked on the process of creating a documentary, she worried that she may not have the technological skills to successfully produce a film, but she was eventually impressed by the end result of her work.

“As a student who did create one of these mini-documentaries, when we were out in the field creating it and putting it together, it was really empowering to see our ideas actually come up in that documentary format,” she said.

Kudumu and her partner developed a film that focused on gentrification in Durham — an issue that can have an impact on schooling to the benefit of some and at the expense of others who may be displaced as new populations move into the neighborhood.

Kudumu and her partner approached the topic from different sides, and were able to use the project to challenge each other’s perspectives on the issue.

“It was really challenging for the two of us to approach this topic from opposite sides, but we were able to come to an understanding of what was really happening and possibly what we could do to be included in the solution,” Kudumu said.

The documentary project allows doctoral students to gain new perspectives on issues surrounding equity in North Carolina, where more than half of all students in public schools identify as nonwhite, and contributes to the college’s land-grant mission to solve educational problems throughout the state.

“This project is helping our doctoral students fulfill the College of Education’s mission to improve educational outcomes for all learners by allowing them to explore pressing issues associated with equity while also developing the pedagogical skills needed to address critical topics and communicate through multimedia platforms in their future classrooms,” Dean Mary Ann Danowitz said.

This year, students in the course also took an interdisciplinary approach to discussing the issues addressed in their documentaries through a screening and panel discussion for NC State students, staff, faculty and community members.

Marcia Gupertz, professor of statistics in the Department of Statistics; Rupert Nacoste, Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; and Andy DeRoin, assistant director of the GLBT Center in the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, served as panelists who discussed equity issues they’ve experienced in their professional lives.

“Before, we would just screen the films in class, but now we’ve opened it up to the wider college, which is important because these are critical conversations,” Kudumu said.

“We thought it was important to bring the conversation outside the classroom to take the projects from an academic gesture into something that can have practical implications,” Denson added.