Talking Pictures: First-Generation College Students Speak from Behind the Lens
“We often think of photographs as truth, because they provide visual evidence of something or someone, but they can also be stereotypical,” says Rashné Jehangir, associate professor in the department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning. “They can afford a very narrow frame by which we view things.” In an effort to break this frame, Jehangir embarked on a photo narrative research project set within the curricular structure of the TRiO course: Introduction to TRiO: Identity, Culture, and College Success.
Drawing on photo narrative methodology, the project invited students who are first in their family to attend college to share their lived experiences through their own frames and through their own locations. In addition to the photos, students were asked to compose narrative reflections with the intentional purpose of putting students both in the front of and behind the lens. By creating a medium for students to share their stories in their own words, I expect their voices and images can inform and stimulate campus conversations about institutional policy and practice,” says Jehangir.
A culmination of this project resulted in the photography exhibit, Talking Pictures: First-Generation College Students Speak from Behind the Lens, on display now through November in the AHA! Gallery in Appleby Hall.
“The things that make the photos so powerful are the stories behind them,” says contributing student, Cheniqua Johnson, who encourages gallery visitors to take the extra minute to read through the artists’ statements as a means to move beyond stereotypes and prejudgments. “The power is behind the words of the students not necessarily just the photos.”
For Jehangir, the project is an extension of a twenty-year collaboration that began when she accepted a position with the TRiO program. “The decade I worked with TRiO has influenced my entire career. It changed the trajectory of my life. It impacted my decision to go to graduate school and to study issues of educational equity.” During that time her work was informed by staff and students. Their resiliency and the strengths and skills they brought on their journeys to college, are what motivates her work today. “My experience at TRiO showed me that access to college should not be a privilege for a few, but we need to work to collectively to make it a right for many.”
With support from an Institutional Change Grant from the Women’s Center, Jehangir, and Veronica Deenanath, a graduate student in Family Social Science, developed this cross-university collaboration between the TRIO Student Support Services Program, their students and the College of Education & Human Development’s iPad initiative.
As Jehangir reflects on the exhibit she shares this thought: “I hope visitors will see the candor and the grace and the vulnerability that the students have put forward. I have certainly been very humbled by that.”