In Fall 2015, I returned to UT-Austin, my alma mater, as a visiting lecturer in the Radio-Television-Film department. I designed the audio documentary course to explore the overt and subtle role of the ‘I’ in media storytelling. In an era of the selfie, crafted visual images on Instagram and the Serial podcast, the Self is peddled and sold, like any other commodity, but less often scrutinized.
In October, we had an expected opportunity to apply the lessons from the class on another (see previous post on police brutality) critical topic of our time: campus shootings. An anonymous threat was made against Austin student warning them to stay away from class. Many did.
The day after, my students arrived in class strangely subdued and when the subject of the threat came up, they seemed detached and frustrated. At one point, a student mentioned that they were only five years old at the time of the Columbine High School massacre. Mass shootings had, in fact, marked their entire lives, prompting another student to remark that in essence, “we were made for this.”
With that, a project came to life in a collection of audio essays they named: We Were Made For This-the shootings that shaped our lives.
Each shooting is seen through the eyes of the children they once were and the current debates about threats and guns on campus are told from students’ perspectives. Columbine is remembered for the video games that worried parents confiscated soon after the shooting. Virginia Tech is told by a grieving son in nearby West Virginia, whose mother had been shot and killed months earlier. The controversial law that will soon permit firearms on college campuses in Texas is considered by a Kenyan student who feels compelled to smile at passersby as she dashes across campus, lest someone deems a sprinting black woman a threat.
The audio essays, with their photographs and a fuller description of the project can be found here.
It was an honor and privilege to work with the students to produce these pieces.