A new space at Columbia’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race is opening up opportunities for media-based research projects.
In collaboration with the Digital Humanities Center in Butler Library, CSER plans to launch the Media and Idea Lab this semester. It will provide students and faculty with space and equipment to produce collaborative projects, lectures, and multimedia to address community issues within specific cultural groups.
“The idea had been brewing for about a year and a half,” CSER director Frances Negrón-Muntaner said. “There’s many ways to think beyond a paper, and it dawned on me that there needed to be a space for anyone who wants to think with media, to use media as a mode of inquiry.”
Before finding space, CSER started to invest in basic production equipment, including cameras and microphones—with money left over from its budget—but it soon realized that it wouldn’t be able to support the lab with its own resources.
CSER turned to the Digital Humanities Center, and a partnership was formed.
“The partnership allows our expertise and infrastructure at the library to meet with curiosity and desire to do research on CSER’s part,” Barbara Rockenbach, director of humanities and history for the Digital Humanities Center, said. “We’re in the business of support.”
Rockenbach added that the collaboration also benefits the Digital Humanities Center, which trains faculty and students to integrate different types of media into projects.
“It highlights the library’s capabilities,” Rockenbach said. “It allows people to better understand what we have to offer.”
Several administrative and creative spaces comprise the Media and Idea Lab, including a room at the Digital Humanities Center with seven iMacs complete with post-production and editing software, screening and seminar rooms, and gallery space at CSER.
Next semester, the lab will launch its first course on storytelling through video.
The first completed research project out of the lab, to be released toward the end of October, will be a policy brief and video series by Negrón-Muntaner on the specific impact of Latino LGBT groups in affecting policy changes for the LGBT community as a whole.
The policy brief’s objective is “to get philanthropic organizations to invest more in coalitions between LGBT groups and coalition groups,” Negrón-Muntaner, who collaborated with the nonprofit organization Hispanics in Philanthropy on the project, said. “The video is for a broader community interested in answering these questions.”
Future lab research projects will also use multimedia, which has its advantages, according to students involved with the lab.
Elif Alp, GSAS ’14, is working through the lab on a film, lecture, and conversation series on incarceration that will launch in November.
“If you had to boil it all down, we want people to be together and talk about things,” Alp said. “The space aspect of it is maybe equally as important as the movie we’re trying to show.”
Cameron Rasmussen, SSW ’13, is working with Alp on her project and emphasized the importance of interdiscplinary presentations.
“Film and art can connect with people in ways that lectures on their own can’t,” Rasmussen said.
Negrón-Muntaner said she hopes that the lab will only expand its scope.
“Media helps you produce an identity that people can rally around,” Negrón-Muntaner said. “You need some kind of media to construct a communal identity, and if you want to create a community that’s interested in answering questions, you need some kind of physical space where people can come together.”