Org. Member Spotlight: Brigham Young University’s Theatre & Media Arts Department

Emily Bailin (NAMLE Student Advisory Board) recently interviewed Amy Petersen Jensen and Benjamin Thevenin from Brigham Young University’s Theatre & Media Arts Department regarding their Master’s of Arts in Media Arts Education program through their Theater and Media Arts Department.

 When did your organization launch and why?

Brigham Young University’s Theatre & Media Arts Department has practicing media and arts literacies education for decades​, producing students like Mireille Enos (World War ZThe Killing), Jared and Jerusha Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Austenland) and contributing to  BYU’s incredibly successful Center for Animation. But when Amy Petersen Jensen joined the faculty in 2000 media literacy became a more central component to the curriculum. In 2005, Jensen launched the Hands on a Camera project–a service-learning program in which undergraduate students from BYU teach media analysis and production in local public schools as a means of promoting media literacy and civic engagement among young people. Then in 2007 Jensen developed a MA program with an emphasis in Media Arts Education. The program has been a valuable resource, both to traditional students as well as public school teachers working in media, the humanities and the arts.

 What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

BYU’s approach to media education is founded on a moral imperative to help young people become critically engaged with media and culture and actively involved in their communities. The aim of BYU’s media education initiatives goes beyond teaching  media production skills or fostering critical thinking. Rather, we aim to help communities realize art’s potential to help them to understand themselves and others, to engage in ‘life-long learning’ and to help contribute to positive social change.

 What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

After Amy Jensen was appointed as Chair of the TMA Department, Benjamin Thevenin joined the BYU faculty to take the reigns of the media education initiatives. Under his direction since 2012, the Hands on a Camera has launched a new initiative–the Stories for Change project, which teaches critical media literacy and civic engagement through political remix. The students (from middle school to college) who have pioneered the project have produced some exciting work using media arts to raise awareness about challenges facing them and their communities. Their creations include a Lorax/Transformers mash-up video that addresses deforestation; a children’s book that re-envisions Cinderella as an introvert tormented by her ball-obsessed sisters; and a number of superhero comics in which question the violent masculinity exhibited by characters like Batman, Wolverine and others. The project understands story as central to engaging young people in cultural criticism and positive social change.

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

February 12-14 of 2015, the TMA Department is hosting BYU’s first Video Game Studies Symposium. The event will include student and faculty presentations of scholarly and creative work related to video games; presentations and workshops led by video game scholars, designers and developers; as well as a massive video game history exhibit. The objective of the symposium is to help the BYU community to engage in critical conversations about video games–as art, culture, industry, technology, etc.–and to foster digital literacy among those playing, making and studying games.
Why is media literacy important to you?

As Benjamin Thevenin recently wrote with Paul Mihailidis, media literacy is more than a valuable set of skills to acquire. It is a core competency to be able to successfully participate in contemporary culture and politics. Without media literacy, we are lost, having no way of making sense of the issues that dominate our days–the Ebola epidemic, Ferguson, #Gamergate, Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda,’ etc. And without media literacy–and in particular, arts and critical literacies–we have no means of expressing ourselves and addressing the problems that we face.

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