Community Education

For 11-year-old Brooklyn Nally, part of being a girl in Louisville is to simply have fun.

“There’s a lot of fun things here, cool places to hang out with your friends,” she says while sporting a red t-shirt that reads, “Me! In the Making.”

Brooklyn is one of 19 middle school girls this week taking part in the Digital Media Academy, a free program at the University of Louisville. Through the program, the students learn new skills, like tech, social media and storytelling. The week will culminate with a photo-voice project about what it means to be a girl in Louisville.

“We’re not pretending we can solve anything but we’re trying to show the girls to be role-models, to be producers of media and not just consumers of media,” says U of L English professor, Mary Sheridan, director of the program.

Sheridan says they look at the news and take note of how women and girls are presented.

“Where are they not represented,” she says. “What types of girls are supposed to stand in for all girls? And we ask really interesting questions.”

And Sheridan says the way girls are portrayed in the media has real-world consequences.

“We found in middle school, girls are consistently not participating in math and science classes and girls consistently say that people overtly tell them girls don’t do science or girls don’t do certain things,” she says.

Part of that reason, Sheridan says, is that there aren’t enough images of women and girls in science. Images that do pop up in media tend to be of men, or white people, or of someone who’s at least middle class. And the media workshop’s solution is to help girls reclaim their media identity.

“Don’t let people say that pictures of you are of ‘fish faces’ and that you should have a selfie,” says Sheridan. “Why don’t you produce a picture of what  you think girls in Louisville should be or can be?”

And that’s not to say that girls shouldn’t take selfies at all. Sometimes taking a selfie is a step towards representation and inclusion.

The Snapchat Era

Olivia Given is one of the academy’s group leaders. A U of L grad student, Given led a workshop on Snapchat and filters.

“We talked about what would you change, what do you like,” she says. “Why do you use filters? Do you like them because they’re fun? Do you like them because they change your face?”

Some filters are harmless — like the ones that allow you to add stickers to your photos based on your location or that add dog ears to selfies or make your face look like an image in a funhouse mirror. Others, like the “pretty filter,” cause concern for users.  

“It will lighten your face, it will thin your nose,” says Given. “It will essentially decrease any volume you have in your hair to a more Eurocentric look.”

This isn’t the first time the app has offended many users. In the past, Snapchat has offered filters that let users add stereotypical Asian or black features to their faces.

Given helps the girls take a critical look at the app and its filters.

“But we also talked about the positives of selfies — of selfies for girls as an act of resistance,” she says. “They are choosing to showcase themselves as just themselves, even when society says they’re not supposed to look like that.”

Beyond Selfies

Also this week, the girls are learning about creating privacy online, digital safety and how to edit videos.

“To be a girl in Louisville to me is kind of like a bike ride because there’s bumps in the road that you have to overcome,” says participant Emerson Jones.

Emerson says she’s ending her week with a lot of new skills and confidence in navigating the media landscape.

“People might judge a book by its cover and not think you’re capable of things but you really are,” she says. “And then there’s good parts of your bike ride like you feel the wind going through your face and there’s so much fun in Louisville that you can participate in and it’s an amazing time and beautiful time.”

What the students are learning in the camp and maybe most importantly from each other, may help them as they head to the sixth grade — and beyond.