Photography professor uses art and the camera to engage students in local and Santa Clara University communities
Renee Billingslea's course, ARTS 151: Exploring Society Through Photography offers students the opportunity to explore social issues through the use of photography, augmented by weekly community-based learning (CBL) experiences. The focus of the course on both art and social justice provides a meaningful and personal learning experience.
Connecting with the Community
An integral component of the students' learning experience on social issues is their involvement with the community, which, as Billingslea explains, allows for a "personal connection with individuals they might not otherwise get to know or connect with." In the past few years, students have been matched with seniors living in retirement homes and centers on an individual basis, which allows them to spend time with the seniors to get to know them and develops "a deeper meaning to the relationship and friendship."
Billingslea hopes that, as the quarter progresses, such personal interaction removes the barriers and stereotypes that exist between the students and seniors, enabling the students to become what she calls "recorders rather than reporters," photographing from the inside instead of the outside. The culminating class project involves each student presenting the story of a senior in the form of a portrait and monologue of a senior's story, which will be presented at the retirement homes. In this way, the project becomes "a collaboration between the senior and the student."
Reflection and Discernment
In the classroom, students discuss topics ranging from the basic fundamentals of photography, to the ethics of photography, to the function of photo essays. However, Billingslea emphasizes much of their learning comes from reflections on their individual community-based experiences, which, when brought into the classroom, enhance the students' understanding of photography as a "vehicle for connecting with others and to recognizing social issues in the community."
As an instructor, she points to the shared experience of the class as the most meaningful and rewarding aspects of this course. The students learning of both photography and social issues become personal "when we come together as a class community," she says. "There's growth, there's maturity, there's compassion; those moments encapsulate what Jesuit education is about."