In the making of the video poem “There is More to Me,” Montclair State student poets and filmmakers have fused voice and vision to foster campus values of acceptance and tolerance. The collaborative effort was created as part of the Presidential Scholars experience and focuses on the questions:
Who am I?
What do you see?
What do you think?
How do I make you feel?
Portraits layered with diverse voices create a culture of inclusion:
I am more than an identity marker
Deeper than the color of my skin
I am a mosaic of life experience
I am nuanced, complex, unable to define
My body is not a text
And I am more than just a sign
I am valid
I am unique
And I am worthy of a voice
The poetry was composed by Mary Boudaher, Alexandria Cruz, Christina Giordano, Amber Gonzalez and Julia Radley, members of the first class of Presidential Scholars at Montclair State, a cohort of highly motivated students who experience shared coursework in specialized learning communities.
Being academic, cultural, research-driven and career-focused, the Presidential Scholars program provides a “transformative opportunity,” says David Hood, the associate provost for Undergraduate Education who oversees the program. The scholars receive financial support and represent about 10 percent of the Class of 2022, with a new cohort of more than 300 students expected in the fall.
The inaugural class closed out the academic year with a Writing Symposium to share work created across a variety of disciplines, much of it based on the reading of a common book, the Pulitzer-winning The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, and their own multi-modal research examining the relationships between humans and nature.
Ramatulai Senghor was drawn to the theme of human-made climate change destroying the planet’s ecosystem, a compelling message made all the more powerful by the discussion on campus with the author of The Sixth Extinction, science writer Elizabeth Kolbert.
“My project focused on how we only have 12 years to save the planet before we face irreversible consequences as a result of climate change, and how both political parties haven’t responded to the crisis,” says Senghor, who is enrolled in the BA/MA program for Jurisprudence, Law and Society. “I made sure to add my own photographs to symbolize what could be lost if we do not do something.”
The scholar’s wide-reaching research also included consumer activism, medical waste, sanitation and overpopulation. “There is a sense of commitment that is refreshing,” observed Joanne Cote-Bonanno, associate provost for academic programs and assessment, who helped launch the program. “Students are thoughtful and reflective on issues. They think critically and are concerned about the future.”
The video poem on diversity was created as part of a Presidential Scholars class on Race, Ethnicity and the Media. “In media today, we see how others are judged by how they are seen on their screens. We forget we are more than a label,” says Radley, a Television/Digital Media major, who filmed, directed and edited the video.
Scouting across campus, it was easy to find students willing to reveal their authentic selves. “I asked them to look directly into the camera as if they had something to say to the world.”
Drawing from them inspiration to make a difference, Radley says, “that’s what I’m trying to do with the film.”