Title of project
The St. Catherine Experience
The St. Catherine Experience
The St. Catherine’s Experience
St. Catherine University
St. Paul, Minnesota
Constructing the “authentic”: New media, old presumptions.
We are a group of students chosen to participate in a collaborative research project involving the capturing the “St. Catherine Experience” through use of video. This project was funded by the University Retention Office who had been working to collect stories of student extracurricular activities on paper, as means to promote campus engagement, for years prior to our involvement. We were brought on board both for our backgrounds in visual media and our positions as undergraduate students. The prevailing logic at the time was that a small group of women utilizing the tools of digital media would have a more authentic voice when addressing a women’s campus familiar with these forms of presentation.
On paper, we were being asked to discover the untold student stories within the St. Catherine University community. Further, that our interviewing and filming techniques should accurately depict the subjects in front of our lens and that these subjects should represent the diverse community on our campus. While the funder’s primary interest was in developing community on a largely commuter campus and peaking current students’ interest in underutilized extracurricular opportunities, it was recognized that these videos would have an external marketing purpose as well. Prior to any footage being shot, the plan became to house this work on the University’s external website to provide both internal and external audience a glimpse into “The St. Catherine Experience.” As a result of this decision, the University’s Marketing and Communication Department was brought on board at the same time we were provided seats at the table.
We came to recognize that the collaboration that we entered into was not between ourselves and our faculty mentor rather, it extended to multiple stakeholder groups each one of which had a preconceived notion of what “The St. Catherine Experience” looked like and how it should be presented. Throughout the project, these groups have weighed in with what stories we should be pursuing and how those stories should be edited. Their expertise concerning the mission and vision of the University, institutional reputation and University website readership have each been wielded to undermine our own expertise as St. Catherine University students. Additionally, we are also cognizant of how our own notions of what documentary video looks like and our subjects’ notions of how one should perform in front of the lens have presented challenges to capturing and presenting authentic stories.
We wish to present a more detailed recounting of this collaborative experience and share examples of the work that came out of this effort. We hope to make the argument that “authenticity” is not something to be discovered but is, instead, the product of manufacture. We are interested in how readily cultural practices present themselves as barriers to new media realizing its progressive promise and hope to bring this conversation to a larger audience.