Setting students on path to change their world
Laura Vazquez is a documentary filmmaker who produces social justice documentaries. As an award-winning professor, she hopes to change students’ lives by opening their minds and hearts to social justice issues. Vazquez is part of NIU’s faculty who are creating a pathway to inspire students to be multifaceted, like her.
Vazquez, Undergraduate Program director for the Department of Communication, was instrumental in developing the Social Justice and Diversity Pathway, part of NIU’s new PLUS (Progressive Learning in Undergraduate Studies) Pathways Program. Beginning with the fall 2016 semester, students are able to customize general education courses around a certain theme, such as Social Justice and Diversity.
“We want students to be engaged very early when they come to the university. Students don’t quite understand what a major means, but that doesn’t mean they are not interested in certain concepts or certain issues. It just means they don’t know how to go about pursuing them,” Vazquez said.
In her own classrooms, Vazquez has already blended social justice issues with classes she teaches.
“I teach a documentary course as an advocacy course. I want my students to learn how you advocate for people who are marginalized in our society,” she explains. She asks students to come up with the face of social justice. In 2016, Sergio Gutierrez and Jordan Reed made a film in her class entitled Judgment. The resulting film opens with archival footage from the civil rights protests of the ‘60s in black and white, and as well as images of police brutality during protests of today. The film ends with a message of hope, telling students they can have an impact.
Allowing students to pursue their passion early on can make a profound difference in their studies and their abilities to make the world a better place, Vazquez said. “I tell students it’s up to you to change our world.”