Allentown teens participating in Muhlenberg's HYPE program

HYPE - Healthy Youth Peer Education

HYPE (Healthy Youth Peer Education) began in 2006 as a collaborative effort between Muhlenberg College and the Lehigh Valley Health Network. The program’s focus on digital storytelling has grown over the years, and has been housed at Muhlenberg College since 2008.

HYPE is an award-winning media education initiative co-directed by Jenna Azar and Dr. Lora Taub-Pervizpour, and supported by the Media & Communication department and the RJ Fellows program at Muhlenberg. HYPE creates collaborations between Allentown teens and Muhlenberg students, faculty and staff that afford teens the opportunity to investigate, research, report, shoot and edit documentary films about social justice issues in their home communities.

This summer, eight HYPE students focused on community reactions to the George Zimmerman trial and verdict. The project follows up last year's documentary, “No Justice, No Peace,” which investigated community perceptions on racial profiling following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by Zimmerman and the fatal shooting of local Allentown rapper Michael Maurice "O’Head" Randolph by a security guard. The students are attempting to look at the issue of race in America, with their own perceptions and the perceptions of Allentown residents as a lens.

As part of the project, students attended a rally following the not-guilty verdict, interviewed members of the community and asked themselves difficult questions concerning the public discourse around the verdict, as well as the role of the media in perpetuating and reinforcing negative stereotypes of young people, and youth of color in particular.

For Dr. Lora Taub-Pervizpour, chair of the Media & Communication department at Muhlenberg College, director of the RJ Fellows honors program and co-director of HYPE, the focus and goal of the project extends far beyond the skill of shooting and editing video. She believes that digital literacy is more than the ability to use digital tools to find, use and critique information—using digital tools to produce and share new knowledge is critical to fostering young people’s success as learners and leaders within their communities.

"By making media in Allentown, by telling stories about their community, the students are part of a broader movement of youth media," she says.  "They recognize their work is connected to conversations that are happening among teens all over the nation, if not the world."  That they achieve this work in collaboration with Muhlenberg College students is critical.  "For Muhlenberg students, collaborating with HYPE teens to tell the often untold stories of this community provides an opportunity for them to reflect on their own capacities as storytellers and their agency as learners and citizens of the world beyond campus," says Azar. 

Photos courtesy of Anthony Dalton, Digital Cultures Media Assistant at Muhlenberg College.

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