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From the Center: Facilitating Feminist Digital Theory and Praxis in a Digital Environment


From the Center: Facilitating Feminist Digital Theory and Praxis in a Digital Environment

Margaret Rhee, Isela Gonzalez, Allyse Gray

Feminist digital storytelling project in a San Francisco jail. 

Isela: Yesterday was World AIDS Day; this year is the 30th anniversary. Presentation is dedicated to those whose lives have been infected & affected by HIV/AIDS. 

Forensic AIDS Project: work with incarcerated HIV positive women.

Quote from participant in RISE project & Forensic AIDS project volunteer. Breeyana Singletary “My Face, My Voice, My Story” Goal to show women they are more than a virus, a jail suit, a felony charge: show the world you have the capacity to make a digital story, not just any story but YOUR story.

Allyse: RISE & From the Center: projects that are inclusive, put stakeholders on the same level. Learning with and from incarcerated women.

RISE: Reach and work for self empowerment, Race and incarceration: San Francisco pop 8% black, prison pop 53% black.

Project expanded to graduates group, doing intensive work with women & making change in medical procedures in prisons. 

Margaret: thanks RISE participant in audience now UMich doctoral student.

Incorporating digital video in efforts to support formerly incarcerated women. Combining work with RISE & Berkeley studies, thinking about incorporating digital learning in the jail setting, Rather than a documentary or materials brought in from outside, what if women created their own digital stories?

Classroom as space of empowerment, learning happening through creativity. PArticipatory process: incarcerated women’s expertise was essential. Opened the curriculum for critique and feedback. Michelle Pinkerton mov; ed from participant in jail to advocate outside it.

Fall 2009: focus group; Aug 2010: funded by African American Health Disparities Workshop.

Isela: 3-day digital storytelling workshop, Workshop included HIV/STD education. Women chose visuals for their stories; transformation to authors, educators, experts.


Allyse: speaking as a formerly incarcerated woman and participant in the project, then research assistant. 

Project gave her first experience of digital storytelling; working as staff later she was able to support participants better for familiarity with their experience, Also drawing on experience performing and writing poetry.

Margaret: reflections for academics engaged with community.

Praxis, pedagogy, technology: meanings can be transformed. Utilizing your degree to bring resources back outside academy one of the most fulfilling experiences you can have.

Approach the work humbly. There is much you cannot learn from a textbook, seeing & experiencing v different from reading.

The academy fosters individuality, Collaboration is hard, but you can learn to support social change, Collaboration teaches us to imagine otherwise. Being reflexive and mindful is key’ central to 

Trust, friendships, partmnerships. You may talk with scientists, clinicians, experts of many kinds. Necessary to be reflective. The heart of this work is counterintuitive to the logics and rewards of the academy. The roles will shift; this is necessary.

Isela: 15 years experience on HIV prevention in jails. Learning about participatory action research (PAR): learning from and with disenfranchised people. Knowledge and skills are shared; create a safe space for learning using different modalities. Empowering and life changing opportunities for women in states of extreme vulnerability. 

Important to make technology less scary, more accessible to health educators. Scholars can take the lead to demystify digital media and make spaces where educators and participants can learn together. Sharing the excitement of learning something new, knowing the end product would be shared with a larger audience.

Recently she created her own digital story: knowing first hand how empowering this project can be. Health professionals, educators and scholars learning from the women they serve.

Screening stories. Incredible and powerful pieces. Will be available online soon, website expected to be up in December.

***here I lost my blogging of the first set of questions due to blip in internet/HASTAC website. Alas the ephemerality of the digital.***

Micha Cardenas: questions about the personal vs structuralism, and how the personal can be read separately from the structural issues it connects to. Prison abolition? 

Margaret’s response: storytelling is powerful. If someone doesn’t see that the story being told also connects to their life & to issues beyond the personal, that is their problem.

Isela’s response: first time she’s presented this in a context that’s not incarceration or HIV related: it’s really important & powerful to have these women’s voices in this space.

Audience: thinking from the perspective of a historian, working on people from past who had no voice. What will these stories mean in the 2-300 years time, plans for long term preservation & continuing to work with women & see how their stories continue?

(My comment: this is really important in terms of resources: digital activist work like this usually happens on a shoestring; can work like this get into the realms of well funded digital archive programs?)



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