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"Documenting Diversity" at Hofstra

By Dennis Foley, Special to The Chronice

With the spotlights and red carpet, an observer might have expected to see a movie star like Tom Cruise or Jennifer Lopez make an appearance. But on Sept. 16, the other stars were put aside for 10 local high school students who participated in Hofstra's Documenting Diversity film project. Friends and family gathered for the big event in the John Cranford Adams Playhouse at Hofstra University to watch documentaries created by the students that capture the lives of total strangers. The mood at the event was jovial, as the happy students took in the crowd of cheering fans.

Despite the Hollywood-style treatment, the program was about learning other cultures and working to better integrate with cultures that are vastly different. "I learned not to be judgmental," Queens participant Jacquelyn Cornier said.

Raheela Latif, Cornier's partner in the project, is an immigrant from Afghanistan who struggles with living in America while still using the customs established back in her homeland.  

For other students, it wasn't necessarily learning about the other cultures that they were grateful for.  Christian Soria, who emigrated with his siblings from Ecuador to pursue a better life, explained to the audience at the event, "I have never touched the kind of technology that I did."  

Soria explained that he had never been able to use the type of technology that was available to him there anywhere else, so the learning experience was even greater.

The stories told by the students ranged from the high-pressure academic in Garden City to residents of Hempstead trying to see the good side of life while living in a dangerous and depressing area.  Despite the disparities among the students, there was a message that resonated and it came from participant Sean Moran: "We're all different, but really, we are the same."

The audience embraced the films wholeheartedly. One person asked if the program would be expanded to more students or even to other schools. Program Director Aashish Kumar responded, "We want to develop a program of disseminating the program… Schools might be inspired to use this program."

The program was developed by Hofstra's School of Communication and is under the direction of Aashish Kumar and Bill Jennings, both of whom are professors within Hofstra's School of Communication.

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