A community is more than its buildings, bridges, streets, and sidewalks. Sure, those are some of the bones of a city, town, or burg. But the heart of a community is found by engaging its residents—listening to their stories and learning about their values, how they relate to their neighbors, and whether they have pride in this place they call home.

Learn what those buildings, bridges, streets, and sidewalks—those community bones—mean to the residents by talking with them and amplifying their voices, and you’ll uncover the community’s heart.

With cameras and candid conversations, a group of Ball State University students engaged with several residents from the south Muncie community of Thomas Park/Avondale about their neighborhood.Person with camera taking a picture

The endeavor was part of the “Ross Immersive,” an immersive learning project funded by Ball State. This past Fall and Spring, Ball State’s Immersive Learning Team (mostly comprised of students from the University’s Diversity and Media  (Jour 302) and Immersive Photographic Techniques  (News 397) courses, partnered with Ross Community Center and Muncie residents to develop visual ethnographies. A visual ethnography uses photography, motion pictures, the web, interactive CDs, and virtual reality to capture and share the perceptions and social realities within a community.

Ball State’s Immersive Learning Team lent professional-grade cameras to the community participants and asked them to photograph images that encompass their community, with the theme of local revitalization in mind.

Community Conversations

The students interviewed the community participants about their photos, and then held focus groups in which the participants shared their experiences.

“Our community friends looked at the photos they took and explained why they took them. The pride that they showed in taking those photos, the fact that they were able to take them—and they were able to show what was meaningful to them and what is meaningful to them—it is just an absolutely beautiful process to see,” said Dr. Jacqueline Hanoman, executive director of the Ross Community Center.

One of the most memorable perspectives came from Cindy McCormick of the Avondale neighborhood, who shared what her photographs say about her community.

“It’s still trying to thrive even though—like when the factories went out, many people lost their jobs. The economy affected a lot of the homes. People couldn’t necessarily move somewhere else. So they pretty much had to stay there. We had a lot of abandoned houses. The neighborhood was just really affected by the shutdown of the factories. One was really right in the Avondale neighborhood. It affected people being able to keep their homes up, maintained their homes, and maintain the neighborhood. Then we had the opioid epidemic.

“To me, I wouldn’t trade it [Avondale] for any other community in Muncie,” she added. “Even though all the faults it has and problems, it feels like home to me. And, that’s the best way to describe it. It feels like people care there, even though they’re not wealthy. Most of them have modest means. It just feels like people care, whereas a lot of other neighborhoods maybe don’t have that connection to their neighbors. Like our pastor will go down the street and knock on doors. Ask them to come down for meals. Or he’ll go knock on their door to see if they need anything. You don’t find very many neighborhoods like that.”

Personal, professional growth

Students reaped major benefits from this immersive learning experience and their positive interactions with the Muncie residents.

“I love the fact that we were able to bond with so many community members. When they first came in, you could tell that they were kind of shy. They slowly came out of their shells, and I just loved seeing that,” Ball State Journalism student Madison Goodnight said.

Journalism & Telecommunications student Emmanuel Flores-Cruz also shared what he got out of this immersive learning experience.

“It’s really helping me with my communications skills. They’re there to tell me their stories. And I’m just helping project it onto a bigger stage,” Mr. Flores-Cruz said.

The students in this immersive learning project worked under Dr. Gabriel Tait, an associate professor in the University’s School of Journalism and Strategic Communication. Dr. Tait served as the faculty mentor on this project. All visual ethnographies created by Ball State students for the Thomas Park/Avondale neighborhood are available at the Fall 2021 Showcase site for this project.

This is just one of many Ball State immersive learning opportunities, across a variety of educational disciplines and fields, that benefit parts or all of the greater Muncie community and Ball State students.  Learn more about immersive learning at Ball State University.

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