Community Voices Students in Professor Marisa Charley’s POV102 course helped local elementary school children tell stories this fall through photovoice research.
Marisa Charley, an instructor of poverty studies and associate director of the Shepherd Program at Washington and Lee University, coordinated a unique research project in the local community last semester. Charley and a group of undergraduate students from her Fall Term course partnered with the Lexington City Office on Youth (LCOOY) to offer participants in an afterschool program an opportunity to take part in a photovoice project that elicited their responses to the world around them.
Photovoice is a research method that uses photography as a tool for collecting and analyzing qualitative data in the social sciences. It was first developed in the 1990s to give voice to marginalized communities, who are often the subjects of research, but have limited opportunities to express their own perspectives.
For this project, six W&L students enrolled in POV102, an introductory course in the Shepherd Program, to work with eight local elementary school students who were regular participants in LCOOY’s afterschool program. Along with the course instructor, Charley, and the city’s youth program director, Tammy Dunn, the group engaged in an exploration of how the design of public, physical spaces can impact how welcome and included youth community members felt in the public spaces they encounter in their day-to-day lives.
“Tammy Dunn played such an essential role in the success of the project,” Charley said. “Her ability to help us connect in more authentic ways with the kids, and willingness to offer logistical support to help the project feel like a win for everyone involved, was invaluable. She is unceasingly generous with her time and talents and constantly finds new ways to show so many of us what it is to love others well.”
The POV102 course is often tied directly to a topic relevant to a community partner. Charley rooted the Fall 2022 course partnership with LCOOY in an exploration of respectful and responsible community-engaged work through concepts of physical design. Students were asked to examine the ways special design can promote opportunity for some, but not others, and how civic health can be promoted through the design of outdoor, public spaces.
In photovoice research, participants are given cameras or smartphones and asked to take pictures that reflect their experiences, thoughts and feelings about issues or questions. They then come together to discuss and share their photographs, and researchers use these images as a starting point for further inquiry. The group gathered to share their photos at the Lexington Office on Youth on Nov. 14 and reflect on their time with Charley’s class.
“What resulted was a series of conversations and practices that were thoughtful, eye-opening and sometimes very, very silly,” Charley said. “The images and reflections that were produced as part of this project are the result of the interest and support of many friends and neighbors, and they provided the opportunity to engage in the experiences, stories and senses of an incredible group of youth participants.”
Sion Jang ‘23, a math major and education minor, said that working on the project made her reflect on her aspirations as a future educator.
“The children were so thoughtful and observant in their reflections,” she said. “It was truly inspiring.”