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Students in the new course Unseen and Unheard: Documentary Storytelling in the Other Washington filmed non-profits such as Brainfood, shown, at work.

Community Voice Project

Empowering students to dive into the District of Columbia in ways most never get to, unearthing the stories of communities and people often overlooked in the heart of the nation's capital.

Unseen Unheard
Student filmmaker Amy Falkow boards boat at
Seafarers Yacht Club on M Street.

The Community Voice Project of the American University School of Communication collaborates with the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Anthropology to document the voices and empower the people and communities of Greater Washington. In one semester, students in Unseen and Unheard: Documentary Storytelling in the Other Washington worked with an anti-hate group in Manassas, Virginia and produced a film on a community activist dedicated to ending racially motivated violence, while other students profiled a young cellist from the D.C. Youth Orchestra revealing his passion for music and the discipline it takes to perform. In the course Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting , students have created multimedia stories about diverse enclaves within the sprawling D.C. area that are rarely covered — a Muslim community center and school in College Park, MD., contrasts in D.C.’s gentrifying Capitol Hill neighborhood, a community of Russian immigrants in Alexandria, VA, and an English class for adults in Wheaton, MD, where leaving home and family in another part of the world is the common bond.

The Project, in its fourth year, was a natural addition for the School of Communication at American University, applying the school’s value of human rights to its mission is to provide an unsurpassed education to its students.

“As a professional school with a focus on social justice media and issue advocacy, the School of Communication helps its students recognize the value in applying their media production, public communication and journalism skills in the nonprofit sector, “said SOC Dean Larry Kirkman.

The Community Voice Project is a cross-campus initiative of faculty and students from SOC’s journalism and film divisions and the College of Arts and Sciences anthropology department. The project enhances the academic missions of SOC and CAS while showcasing ways to use media as creative tools for public knowledge and action.

Launched with an initial two-year, $150,000 grant from the Surdna Foundation and the Project is working to grow its financial support. A digital library of the students’ work is being created to serve as a model for other university and non-profit collaborations throughout the country.


Community Voice Project Faculty

Nina Shapiro-Perl

Nina Shapiro-Perl, PhD, is an award-winning producer and director with 30 years of experience in television and video production, many of them spent documenting the lives of working people across the United States for the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union. Through the Eye of the Needle, her latest film, documents the art and story of Holocaust survivor and artist Esther Nisenthal Krinitz. It premiered at the Washington 2011 Jewish Film Festival, winning the Audience Favorite Award for Documentary and has since won numerous awards including a 2012 CINE for Documentary. artandremembrance.org

Angie Chuang

Angie Chuang brings her experience as a race and ethnicity reporter at The Oregonian to help students find and cover the clusters of immigrants and long-time D.C. residents in her Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting class.