Women’s and Gender Studies Students Earn Multimedia Award for It Gets Better Project Video

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By Tom McLaughlin

Founded in 2010, the It Gets Better Project has become a worldwide, Internet-based phenomenon in which LGBTQ+ adults and their allies reach out to young people through videos with a simple, powerful truth: “it gets better.” To date, more than 50,000 user-created videos have been viewed more than 50 million times on the project website.

“A key element of the project is that young people have unmitigated access to these videos even if they are not out to their parents, teachers, or friends, ” says Ellen Malenas Ledoux, an associate professor of English and director of the women’s and gender studies program at Rutgers University–Camden.

IGBProduction3-copySpreading this message of acceptance and encouragement, students in Women’s and Gender Studies produced their own video for the project, titled “It Gets Better When…” For their exemplary efforts, the students earned the 2015 Margery Somers Foster Undergraduate Multimedia Award, recognizing the creative use of university library collections in the production of a multimedia-based research project focused on women’s or gender issues, from the Margery Somers Foster Center at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

“The video makes suggestions for how we can improve civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community on both interpersonal and policy levels,” explains Ledoux.

“It Gets Better When…” was produced as part of a civic engagement component built into the curriculum of two spring 2015 semester classes, “Gender and Sexuality in Literature” and “New Queer Cinema,” taught by Ledoux and Dawn Walsh, a part-time lecturer for women’s and gender studies and the Department of English, respectively. The production was funded by a grant awarded to Walsh and Ledoux from the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers–Camden.

According to Ledoux and Walsh, they handled the planning and logistics for the production, while the students did the majority of the work during every phase of the process. Beginning in January, the students researched the important questions the video should address, laid out the concepts on a storyboard to create skits, and co-wrote and edited the script with their instructors. The students then shot the scenes and edited the video with the help of professional videographers Dave Tavani and Sarah Punderson, wrapping up production at the end of March.

IMG_4467-copy“The scenarios and scripts were inspired by situations and events that students themselves had experienced,” says Walsh. “I feel that the video derives much of its strength from students’ willingness to put their own lives and experiences on screen. I was especially inspired by the efforts put forth by the cast, crew and editors, all of whom devoted many hours, and for some several days, to the project. The students really took ownership of the project and really saw it through to the end.”

The resulting award-winning video consists of a series of carefully crafted skits, each one poignantly illustrating a specific message of awareness and inclusion. According to Ledoux, the students wanted to focus on several key points, including: a message of acceptance, effective and thought-provoking dialogue, the personal imperative to speak up and not be complicit in transphobic or homophobic behavior, and the importance of taking personal responsibility for social change, such as by not assuming individuals’ gender identity or sexual orientation. Furthermore, the students wanted to urge activism to change institutional policies and practices that foster transphobia and homophobia, such as the gendering of public spaces.

The video, which had a public premiere at Rutgers–Camden on March 31, has garnered praise from viewers in the Rutgers–Camden community and beyond.

“I’m still crying…that was absolutely the best video I have ever seen…the production, the messages, the delivery…everything was perfect!” wrote one viewer on Facebook.

Walsh hopes that, above all, viewers understand that there are actions people can take now to help make life better for those in the LGBTQ+ community.

“We don’t have to wait for things to get better; we can use the power of our voices to speak up and make situations better in ordinary, everyday moments,” she says.

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