I think this experience has had a large impact on how I initially believed research could be conducted. It definitely affected my perception of how involve you can become in your research depending on what methods you are utilizing. Since I conducted research using a teacher-research methodology approach, I became heavily involved. There was never really the effect of being an outsider looking in because I was/am a member of the H.Y.P.E. (Homewood Youth Powered and Engaged) media team. I was inducted into the planning team and I immediately began virtually constructing ideas for lessons and unit programs concerning social issues. Moreover, I evaluated the possibilities for exploration into issues of gender, race, and equity while using digital tools. As a team member, I was also given the task of checking in with these girls each day, therefore, I was aware of their emotions and spent time experiencing their goal setting processes. There was never a moment where I had the chance to feel “disconnected” and I think that’s part of the reason why I was so heavily affected personally in the best way possible. One of the main projects H.YP.E. media was conducting was a social media campaign based on affirmations and HYPE affirmation, are defined by the girls, as something positive a group member believes about themselves that helps set the tone for their day. The main goal of these affirmations is to establish and sustain a community of positivity around black life and black girlhood.
Some of the noteworthy observations I made heavily pertained to participants emotions during the process of making their social media posts which they communicated during group reflections and group sessions. Some participants shared that they were initially nervous about these posts, and they were not sure how people were going to respond. But there was one participant, whose well-constructed first affirmation post was the reason why we started this campaign, already felt very confident about their post and they had gain this confidence from speaking with another team member who “Hyped” her up beforehand. Another noteworthy factor the girls communicated was that they did see themselves creating change, they saw that their work was impactful and that they were inspiring other people to think and speak positively and giving and others the opportunity to express themselves within this virtual community. Focusing on this part of my research specifically, I can say that I think this project has done a really interesting job in influencing my sense of self and how I choose to think about my identity and who I am. I think it has affected how I think positively about myself and how I can use mantras and repetitions to affirm my existence and how I can also use that to help others do the same.
I believe another part of my research that I found quite valuable was the relationships I was able to build with my fellow team member as well as program participants. I understood that there was still a research element to what I was doing but it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I was formulating bonds and learning about the different aspects of interacting within digital spaces. Furthermore, I gained a large insight into how black girls, when giving the tools, have the ability to create a community and influence how those around them view them and also influence how those same people view themselves. I was also place into a leadership position from the get-go and had to quickly learn valuable skills in terms of learning how to be a facilitator and curriculum designer. I think the most challenge moments were related to the position I was suddenly placed in. I was so used to being in a “student” position that when it was time to have interactions as a “teacher” I did struggle. I didn’t know what question to ask in order to facilitate the discussion. I would create lessons and have questions on slides, and the girls would answer them, but I did know how to ask “add-on” question that would keep the conversation going. Therefore, although I had decided that I would be utilizing teacher-research methodologies, I was still learning how to be a facilitator in this position. Curriculum design with the help of fellow team members was definitely something I had an easier time with, and it was great to bounce ideas off other team members in a welcoming and comfortable environment.
Furthermore, in relation, to challenging moments I had in general, Covid-19 definitely was a contributor. There were challenges I encountered with COVID-19 that did make the research process more difficult. I unfortunately was not able to have interactions with the program participants in-person, however, the video conferencing program, Zoom, was utilize for us to host virtual meetings instead. Additionally, H.Y.P.E. media’s schedule was modified to start a later date due to the switch to online learning and the trials that came with that process. Moreover, the nonprofits that were partnered with H.Y.P.E. media were experiencing difficulties at this time as well, therefore, H.Y.P.E. Media was also affected which in turn added for the need to push back the starting date. Obtaining technology for the participants so they could take part in the summer session of the program was also an issue that had to be handled. The first order for laptops didn’t come through so the participants were later given iPads instead. Overall, COVID-19 did present several issues that the H.Y.P.E. media team had to take care of; however, we were able to adapt and I was able to continue to my study albeit with a few alterations.
In terms of what I hope to do next now that the fellowship is over, I think the possibilities for the continued research of my topic are endless. Since I am now an official member of the H.Y.P.E. media team and HYPE media itself is in its first year as a pilot programs there are so many opportunities for growth on both ends. How can the literacies of black female students (or black students in general depending on how the program progresses) continue to flourish within digital spaces? What can these youths manifest when given the proper tools? What can the create? There is a lot of uncharted territory within this topic because while research has been done, the amount is still lacking. So, the question for me then becomes, how can I assist in providing these youths with a platform? Because that what research under these conditions should do; I am providing as well as acting as proxy for these youths in order from them to reach as boarder audience. When my fellowship program presented at the diversity forum and I was able to give a short Pecha Kucha presentation about my research I was smiling for hours after not only because of the response it received from the people who attended but from the HYPE media girls themselves. I felt that it was me fulfilling a part of what I had set out to do which was to give these girls a platform and make them proud. And no matter how short that 6 and half minute presentation was, I was able to do just that.