Vanity. TSA lines and delays. Addiction. Rehab. When we think or hear of any of these things, we generally associate them with negative connotations.
These were the topics my students chose to rebrand this semester as they attempted to change public perception and attitudes surrounding what they considered urgent issues.
Last week, they presented their campaigns to a public panel. I had asked colleagues from my department, undergraduates from former classes and friends in the business world to come to my class and listen.
Overwhelmingly, my students emphasized that culminating with this public performance validated their experience. It all seemed to come to life in that moment – not in the social media campaigns they had launched or the pop-up events they had sponsored around campus, but in their ability to encapsulate what they had done and why these meanings needed to change.
But it was more than just student validation. Clicking through their slides, I sat in the corner, taking it all in.
Of course, I was proud of the work they had produced and the seriousness with which they took the course project. But more than that, I was proud to see them as persons, as individuals – not just as students who sit (hopefully) attentively in my classroom.
In rebranding vanity, my students focused on the importance of self-confidence.
Creating a mural of positivity, the group created a pop-up on campus that asked people to come up with one positive aspect of themselves.
In their recording, one of the individuals thought for a long time – with my students encouraging him – before he shook his head and said, “I don’t like much about myself.”
Other students were encouraged and promoted their strength and resilience, while some focused on the obstacles they had overcome.
In rebranding addiction and rehab, students focused on the humanity of the individuals involved.
Addiction can affect anyone, and rehab is a place to restart and rebuild a person’s life. By emphasizing unity and shared experiences, my students hoped to create a more welcoming and positive community.
With the holidays approaching, many of us will be heading to the airport and, while we’re prepared for long lines and delays, often, we’re not very considerate of others. The experience of flying has become an experience of resentment and complaint. But what about embracing the innovation of air travel, its ease and the sheer fact that, with so many ongoing flights and behind-the-scenes actions, it often goes right?
That was the perspective a group of aviation students took as they campaigned for #whyIfly.
In all of these examples, what struck me most was the centrality of positivity.
Despite the different topics, at the root of all of these campaigns were values that were meant to uplift, to inspire and to unify.
It was a wonderful reminder at the end of the semester, when everyone – teachers and students alike – are bogged down.
In choosing topics that they believed deserved a second chance, my students revealed who they were.
Millennials are too often condemned for being self-obsessed. They’re ridiculed as the selfie-generation.
But, here, listening to their campaigns, I saw a generation that truly and deeply cares for the people around them.
They’re desirous of building stronger, better communities. We just don’t often give them the opportunity to do so – or the credit for wanting to believe in the possibility.
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.