As their digital media project, about 130 students in my MASC 101 classes chose to record an interview using NPR’s StoryCorps app. This app automatically archives the interview at the Library of Congress.
Many of the interviews were about serious subjects and contemporary issues. For example, Fuad Ali, Azriah Bryant, William Cho, Grace Dines, Jaleel Jackson and Jordan Lee interviewed friends about Colin Kaepernick and NFL players kneeling to protest police brutality. Sofia Melo interviewed a friend from Jordan who has applied for political asylum in the U.S. because of her sexual orientation. Erica Perez Escobar interviewed her older brother about euthanasia and patient-assisted suicide. Namrata Thawrani discussed the Second Amendment with an Army veteran who’s majoring in homeland security at VCU. Mosi Jones interviewed his mother about the event at VCU in which a white professor called security on a black professor.
Elda Abraham, Hannah Atanacio and Veronica Webb posted interviews about how the media negatively affect girls and women by setting unrealistic beauty standards and attitudes about sex. Makayla Fox talked to her aunt about the need for sex education, and especially to teach about consent (no means no), at an early age. Thomas Davis and Cassidy Martin talked to friends about vaping and how it’s easy to get hooked on Juul. McKenzie Pickett interviewed her mom about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and the movie “Spotlight.” John Burns and Jennifer Kater talked to friends about the impact of video games. And Tatyana Bailey interviewed a friend who had worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign about politics, fake news and the importance of digital literacy.
Several students talked to grandparents, parents and other relatives or friends about immigrating to the U.S.: from Nigeria (Ndidi Ndubueze; also Helena Yared); from India (Sabah Munshi); from Finland (Samantha McInnis; Nicole Nohra); and from Burma (Melanie Chow). Willem Oystese talked to his grandfather, who lived under Nazi occupation during World War II.
A lot of students talked to their parents or other relatives about the media and technology. Keri Cuthriell’s grandmother recalled growing up in rural Mississippi without a telephone. McKenna Day’s grandmother also discussed how revolutionary the phone was in the 1940s — even though families then had to share a party line:
“If I heard somebody talking, I had to hang up.”
Quentin Rice’s grandmother discussed how people in her coal-mining town in Pennsylvania got the news during World War II: from the radio and from newsreels in movie theaters.
Emma Curley’s grandmother, among others, talked about how the U.S. had just three television networks years ago. Now we have more choices, but many of the interviewees said the quality of information is worse.
A lot of the StoryCorps interviews focused on the pros and cons of technology. Jovon Griffith’s dad, a software engineer, said, “I don’t know what life would be like without technology.” But Kristina Houghton’s stepdad expressed skepticism about technology: “It makes these young people nowadays lazy, stupid at times and not sociable.” Ruby Knerr’s mother agreed: “Before the internet, people were not so engrossed in their phones all the time” and had a longer attention span.
Several students said it was neat to hear their parents or relatives reminisce — Sarah Mosher’s father, for example, recalled how he met and proposed to her mom. In his reflection paper, Zachary Claud wrote:
“This interview I think helped me understand my parents in a different light than normal. I’m mostly familiar with their stories growing up, but I’ve never really asked them questions regarding the decisions they made and how it affected them, especially in their careers. I feel as though I understand them as an adult now, not only as their son.”
A few students talked to relatives who work in the media: Sydney Smith’s older sister is the traffic reporter on NBC 12 Richmond. Sophie Chehab interviewed an uncle who is a reporter at the Wall Street Journal (and they discussed the danger of today’s fragmented news-media world where “everyone is in their bubble”).
Other interviews were about music and culture. Michael De Iorio’s father called music “the universal language” and recalled his first concert (Aerosmith in 1973). Claudia Perez’s dad discussed the evolution of music since vinyl and how music is “therapeutic to your mind and soul.”
Elijah Bell, Esron Palmer and Elisha Ralph talked to friends who work in the music industry. Reagan Carriker talked Matthew Volkes of the band People’s Blues of Richmond about how technology is a double-edged sword for musicians: It’s made it easier to get your name and music out there, but you’re not going to make much money selling your music. (Volkes said his band makes one-tenth of a penny for every play on Spotify. Bands now must make their money playing concerts and festivals, he said.)
Azia Alvarez and her roommate discussed “what it means to be a fan in the internet age” as social media lets people create a community dedicated to a specific group (like One Direction) or musical genre. Brianna Jones’ boyfriend noted that our memories are often linked to music and music triggers those memories. (He talked about his first concert when his parents took him to see country star Keith Urban.)
Some of the StoryCorps interviews had good advice for living your life. Elena Avendano interviewed a professor about the importance of “learning to love ourselves” – because only then can you love others. Tell Carlson interviewed his husband, a VCU business professor, about how mindfulness “leads to more authentic connections with people.” Jishnu Purihella talked to a student-athlete about time management and work-life balance. And Shanice Rose interviewed a math professor about creative expression: Besides a math textbook, the prof has written more than a dozen novels, self-publishing them on Amazon.
Most students found the StoryCorps app relatively easy to use. Regardless of what technology you might use, it’s important to preserve family memories. Elijah Bell, who noted that three of his four grandparents have passed away, wrote:
“I would give a lot to be able again to sit in front of the TV and have another conversation about politics with my grandfather, even if a lot of it went over my 12-year-old head. Or to talk to my grandmother about raising seven kids on a Navy salary. My mom always suggested that I should use a tape recorder and record my conversations with my grandparents and the stories that they had to share, and I am now kicking myself wishing that I had done so. These little moments and conversations meant everything to me, and I wish I had pushed more to have these.”
Here are links to this semester’s MASC 101 StoryCorps interviews.