UM Students Launch Project Telling Stories About Race in Montana

October 12, 2015

MISSOULA − Students in the University of Montana School of Journalism have launched a new endeavor to tell the uncovered stories of racial experiences in Montana.

The project, “The Montana Race Project: Everyone Has A Story,” launched Oct 12. Students in UM’s Diversity in Media class are gathering six-word essays by working with all 16 Montana University System campuses along with Montana’s seven tribal colleges. The class has the goal of reaching out to all 47,000 students enrolled in the Montana University System.

Additionally, the students invite anyone who lives in Montana to submit an essay. Interested individuals can share their essays online on http://jour.umt.edu/student-projects/montana-race-project1/default.php, and they can do so anonymously if they choose. The project also is on Facebook.

As part of the campuswide DiverseU symposium, stories curated through the project will be displayed at the University Center Nov. 4-5. Students in the Diversity in Media course will formally present the project, read a curated selection of essays and lead a Q-and-A at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, in the UC Theater, followed by a public presentation in conjunction with the display.

“Through this project, journalism students are helping to create a proactive, honest conversation about a topic that can be very difficult to discuss,” UM journalism Dean Larry Abramson said. “I encourage all Montanans to share their experiences or reflections on race with our students as they work to put classroom lessons to work in our communities.”

From Ferguson, Missouri, to the Washington Redskins debate, race in America continues to be one of the most charged narratives of every news cycle. However, in Montana stories about race are often unseen and unheard. Through the project, students are asking all Montanans to share their stories and submit them online.

“As a class, our students are testing whether the old adage, ‘everyone has a story’ holds true when it comes to the racial experiences of Montanans,” said Kathy Weber-Bates, Diversity in Media instructor. “Our goal is not simply to study how to tell untold stories in the classroom but to actually give all Montanans a platform where those stories can be shared.”

The six-word memoir has taken on new interest in the literary world, said Weber-Bates, perhaps because of ever-shortened attention spans or perhaps because of its power to capture the essence of a story. This NPR story discusses such short life stories: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123289019. There also are several websites devoted completely to the six-word essay such as http://www.sixwordstories.net/. The national Race Card Project (http://theracecardproject.com/about-the-race-card-project/) also encourages brevity by gathering six-word essays on race.

After referring to the project in a lecture, it occurred to Weber-Bates that it would be a great hands-on experience for students to do something proactive about the topics they’ve been analyzing in class.

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Contact: Kathy Weber-Bates, UM journalism instructor, 406-243-4001, kathy.weber-bates@mso.umt.edu.