Voices of UMBC

Video offers a fresh and fascinating take on UMBC’s language diversity

When Christine Mallinson asked her students to find a new way to highlight UMBC’s linguistic diversity, she knew they’d get creative. In fact, they made waves in the education world with a video that viewers across the country have praised as “inspiring” and “fascinating.”

Mallinson, an associate professor of language, literacy, and culture (LLC), taught a graduate seminar in fall 2015 titled “Language in Diverse Schools and Communities.” As part of the course, students collaborated with Frankie Films, a video production company headed by Francesca Cerquetti ’14, visual arts, to produce “Voices of UMBC.” The video features students from across the university sharing their experiences and celebrating linguistic diversity as a cultural resource.

“We knew we wanted to maximize the visibility of linguistic diversity in the film, so we tried to make sure we had many languages represented,” explains Mallinson. “It didn’t just have to be foreign language diversity, it’s also diversity within English, and we knew we wanted sign language represented as well.”

Students in the seminar wrote and shared their linguistic autobiographies and discovered a deep sense of pride and connection to their linguistic heritage. When they started the video production process, they sought to shed light on the educational and social benefits that students experience when they share connections with people from varying language backgrounds.

“Because language gives us a different way of describing, knowing, and interacting with the world, we can gain new insights and perspectives through our interactions with people of diverse language backgrounds,” says Kimberly Feldman, a Ph.D. student in LLC who worked on the film. “I think the film captures some of the joy people feel about their language heritage as well as the excitement of being around and engaging with people who speak other languages and dialects.”

The student filmmakers crafted questions, recruited students to interview, and edited the film to emphasize the voice and individual experiences of each participant. Beyond capturing linguistic diversity at UMBC, the finished film speaks to larger themes, particularly the growing demand for interactions with people of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds as the world becomes more globalized and cross-cultural communication skills become more essential.

“Language diversity is such an important resource to have as 21st-century learners,” shares May Chung, a Ph.D. student in LLC who worked on the film. “We need to build a communicative competence…it’s all part of being a global citizen, and I am pleased to pioneer our project at UMBC.”

Mallinson presented “Voices of UMBC” at the Linguistic Society of America (LSA) annual meeting in January, where it was very well received. She says linguists are beginning to do more research and outreach on bringing awareness of diversity to higher education, and UMBC is emerging as a leader in this field.

“One person during the [LSA meeting] comment session said ‘UMBC students get it.’ The film exemplifies the fact that we understand what it is to celebrate diversity,” Mallinson shares.

“All too often we talk about diversity in a superficial way without really delving into what the word actually means,” says Deanna Cerquetti, a Ph.D. student in LLC who worked on the film. “By allowing people the opportunity to talk about their linguistic backgrounds, we begin to paint the picture of who they really are and where they come from.”

Mallinson and her students are scheduled to present “Voices of UMBC” at the upcoming SouthEastern Conference on Linguistics later this month in New Orleans. There they plan to further demonstrate a leading model for how language outreach can occur on a college campus—the UMBC model. The students will also present the video at UMBC’s Graduate Research Conference on March 23, 2016.

Note: Other project collaborators include LLC students Ron Collins and Tissa Thomas, and Mercedes Lopez, a master’s student in text, technologies, and literature.

Image: (From left to right) Deanna Cerquetti, Kimberly Feldman, May Chung, and Christine Mallinson. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.