Marquette Wire

Students hear from Democracy Project activists

Nobel+Peace+Prize+nominee+Wael+Ghonim+is+filmed+and+interviewed+by+students+for+a+project.+Photo+courtesy+of+Joseph+Brown.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee Wael Ghonim is filmed and interviewed by students for a project. Photo courtesy of Joseph Brown.

Nobel Peace Prize nominee Wael Ghonim is filmed and interviewed by students for a project. Photo courtesy of Joseph Brown.

Nobel Peace Prize nominee Wael Ghonim is filmed and interviewed by students for a project. Photo courtesy of Joseph Brown.

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The university hosted four activists from around the globe last year as part of the Marquette Democracy Project. The project recently launched a website where interviews, short videos and student photography of the activists will be displayed as a resource for people and academics.  

“There’s a certain weight to this: This person traveled across the world. We have to make them look good. They have important things to say,” Joseph Brown, assistant professor of digital media and media director for the project, said. “We have to be professional as possible. It’s more than just an exercise.”  

Students studying international affairs, journalism and film conducted interviews and made production sets with assistance from Brown and project co-founders Barrett McCormick and Jessica Rich to send the activists’ messages to a broader audience. 

“It’s a way for our students to get a new perspective on the kind of abstract theories we learn in the classroom by seeing how they play out in life, making their classroom experiences memorable,” Jessica Rich, project co-founder and assistant professor of political science, said.

Last September, Rich visited a conference in the United Kingdom designed to talk about how to get journalists and academics to collaborate. Rich said the conference inspired him to bring something similar back to Marquette.  

“With everything that’s happening with the world and all the elections, and thinking about the people who were fighting for democracy and social justice, it just made sense,” Rich said.

The president of the National Endowment of Democracy, Carl Gershman, visited Marquette in November to talk about connecting students to activists that can engage them with current events, Barrett McCormick, project co-founder and professor of political science, said. Rich and McCormick both attended Gershman’s speech.

“Jessica Rich and I walked out of that talk and we both more or less said the same thing at the same time: ‘Let’s do this,’” McCormick said.

It was spring 2017 when the Marquette Democracy Project started to roll, Rich said. Wael Ghonim, a social media activist from Egypt, was one of the four activists who came to campus. Friar Tomas from Mexico, Clare Byarugaba from Uganda and Maryam Al-Khawaja from Bahrain were his activism peers.

Ghonim and the other activists held public forums and class lectures for senior capstone students in international affairs. Brown’s students filmed the speakers.

“The main idea is to get us all to think more about democracy and human rights. We are concerned that the last two years have been a pretty hard time for democracy and world politics,” McCormick said. He said he hopes the project inspires people to renew commitment and service.  

Catherine Bell, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, worked on the project through her digital media class in spring 2017, editing footage in class and throughout the summer. Bell said it’s easy to get distracted and discouraged by injustice and suppression, but each activist found a way in which they could positively impact their own community.    

“Perhaps you are not facing injustice, but are interested in a certain issue; pay attention to policy, and hold your representatives accountable for the injustices they are exacerbating, supporting or imposing,” Bell said in an email.  

The project is a way of getting students from different backgrounds to collaborate to think about activism, Rich said. The newly-launched website is a way to showcase the conversations activists start.  

The Marquette Democracy Project also has a Facebook page where they announce events and news relating to the project and activists. The project is still in the planning stage for this year, and the speakers have yet to be released.

Rich said the hope of the Democracy Project is to make this a win-win project for activists and students.

“For students, it is to inspire them to make some change in the world and to make them think harder about what they can do,” Rich said. “For activists, it is the idea to help them engage with the students, the next generation of activists.” 

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