Students Flip the Switch to Digital Project

Students in Dr. Susan Corbesero’s Gender and Power seminar may have started the course learning about Victorian women navigating unsafe streets in London, but they’re ending it in true Generation Z fashion—with TikTok. After learning about gender, power, and intersectional dynamics throughout the course, students have had to reimagine their end-of-year project on street harassment in light of remote learning. And while the class, all senior students, didn’t plan for these unforeseen circumstances, the crash-course they’re receiving in the importance of utilizing flexibility, resourcefulness, and adaptability in their work is one that will serve them well now and long into the future.
Prior to the pandemic, the class’ plan was to hold a chalking event downtown with fellow Pittsburgh youths to culminate their research on street harassment. But now with stay-at-home orders in place, the cohort is transitioning from an in-person event to a virtual venue instead. Highly attuned to the digital landscape, the class chose to utilize TikTok, one of the world’s fastest-growing social media networks which allows users to share and create videos, to reach their audience and shed light on the issue. Using the platform’s short video format, students created public service announcements (PSAs) from a personal, local, and global perspective aimed at educating other teens on the far-reaching effects of street harassment.

“We chose TikTok because it was something very relatable to a younger audience and a platform that would support our creative way of approaching social issues,” shared Adylade Krimmel, Class of 2020. “It was interesting to watch my peers step through these challenges with new and innovative ideas that ultimately created almost an entirely new project. Though we had the same goal of educating a broad audience, we had to reframe our ideas to create a more direct and clear campaign.”

From Dr. Britney Brinkman’s perspective, a professor and psychologist who has worked with students and Dr. Corbesero on this course for the past four years, she was confident that the curveball thrown to the class wouldn’t be a strikeout, but a game-changer. 

“We really put the power in students’ hands to take it in the direction they wanted,” said Dr. Brinkman. “From my experience with Ellis over the years, I knew the students would be up for the challenge and blow me away. Youth activism can happen in many different ways. It’s not just protesting, it can be discussing your feelings, finding allies, and starting a dialogue too.”

In addition to creating PSAs on TikTok, students participated in a virtual tour of Pittsburgh on Zoom with Dr. Corbesero and Dr. Brinkman. The class utilized the opportunity to collectively see how the city takes into account the needs of women and families in urban design. As they explored downtown together, the class discussed if alleyways and sidewalks were well lit and wide enough, shared their thoughts on intersections and spaces that were ripe for catcalling, and considered what aspects of the city could be redesigned to be more inclusive and safe for women. 

While a shift to learning remotely could have been perceived as a challenge, these students chose to flex their creative and strategic thinking muscles to pivot quickly, leverage an opportunity, and find a new way to communicate.

“Our work right now might not be what they originally planned, but the conversations and discussions are still happening, and in some ways, they’re even stronger,” shared Dr. Corbesero. “I love signing onto Zoom and teaching this class because the conversations are so vibrant and rich. Our girls are stepping up and taking action to raise awareness, to create safer spaces for their peers, and, in the process, ultimately create a more gender-equal society.”