Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

New class documents civil rights for PBS

Hannah Stein, For The Miami Student

This year, a Miami University class will take their skills outside the classroom, working to develop a documentary about The Mississippi Summer Project, Freedom Summer, which will celebrate the involvement of the Oxford community in the civil rights movement.

The Freedom Summer campaign took place in 1964 and aimed to register as many African Americans to vote in Mississippi as possible while also setting up Freedom Schools. Before going to work in Mississippi, the volunteers participated in training sessions at Western College for Women, now a part of Miami.

The class is two semesters long. The fall semester is dedicated to background research and story development and the spring semester focuses primarily on shooting and scripting. Professor Kathy Conkwright, who is teaching the course, said the fall semester class was open to all, however, the spring semester will only be open to students who have either taken the fall semester class or have production experience.

The documentary is set to premier at the last annual national conference in memoriam of the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, which will take place at Miami in October of 2014, Conkwright said.

The planning committee for the conference approached Conkwright about potentially making a documentary either about the conference or for the conference.

According to Conkwright, CET, Cincinnati's PBS station, will broadcast the documentary the November or December after it premiers at the conference.

"The hope is that we would be able to find those significant participants and people who would be willing to contribute to be interviewed to get their stories to create something to celebrate this," Conkwright said.

She said she hopes the documentary will tell a story that has never been told to celebrate Oxford's involvement in a critical part of history.

"We want to focus specifically on what happened here, the training sessions," Conkwright said. "How did the community of Oxford and the place of Oxford, how those two things work together to really affect something that then enabled all those folks, the student volunteers, the activists, local residents, to go on and do something that dramatically affected the history of this country."

She said since this will be the last year the conference will take place, it is an important time for this part of history to be documented.

Although Conkwright said she thinks it is an important opportunity to document this story, she also said she hopes, as a professor, to convey to the students that it is important that your work is seen by others, that it makes a difference and reaches people.

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

"I want students, who are spending all the time they have, to spend it on something that should be seen and heard, shared with other people in the community," she said. "...It's extremely hard and not glamorous work, it's not about making a lot of money or being in the's sort of my goal for sharing it and getting it out in the world."

Senior Emily Potten said she enrolled in the class to get more production experience and said the most exciting part will be interviewing.

"I'm really exciting for interviewing because there are so many people who are still alive who were a part of it," she said. "For me it would be really cool to get to talk to somebody who participated in something so monumental."

Potten also said people do not always think about how much work goes into a documentary and how fun and creative it can be, and she is excited to hone her production skills through the class.

Sophomore Stephanie Harris said she was already interested in Freedom Summer and was drawn to the class because it was a topic that interested her. Similar to Potten, said she hopes to broaden her experience through the class.

"I'm excited to explore a different aspect of my field," Harris said. "Being a journalism major it's really easy to get caught up in only one aspect...It's a form of storytelling and it's a part I know nothing about."

Harris said the most interesting part of the class for her will be determining what the story will be for the documentary.

Even though Freedom Summer was 50 years ago, Conkwright said she believes the story is just as pertinent today and hopes the documentary will be moving.

"Individuals and ordinary citizens really can make a difference," she said. "It was here that it really rooted in a reality and I think all the people who were involved were very much's a great story today."

It's not isolated, leaving its people to suffer quietly. It's on the verge of engulfing much of the region, and their aiding superpowers. Because it's happening under the glaring spotlight of social media and international attention, Syria isn't an Iraq, isn't a Vietnam, isn't an Afghanistan.

It isn't a conflict of questionable origins or ambiguities of weapons of mass destruction. There is sufficient evidence, supported by global organizations that Assad used sarin gas to slaughter his own people.

The red line of chemical warfare was not one invented by Barack Obama, but instead by the international community. In 1925, Syria signed the Geneva Protocol, prohibiting "the use of chemical and biological weapons," according to the U.N. This is why Obama said Wednesday "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line," according to CNN.

Regardless of what side of the political fence you're on, in this circumstance, Obama is right. Grotesque violations of human rights and blatant disregard for international law call for a response, or we allow Bashar al-Assad to believe he can act with impunity and continue to mercilessly kill his own people.

This makes U.S. policy incredibly difficult. Only 29 percent of the American public approves of air strikes on Syria, according to Pew Research. Equally precarious, France is our only European ally explicitly supporting air strikes, according to USA Today. Most disturbing of all, we are on the edge of air strikes, of supporting a group that we don't fully understand. The ambiguity of the Syrian rebels makes the actual method of intervention equally ambiguous, but necessary in some form.

Keeping this in mind, President Obama and Congress should not compare Syria to Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam but it should remember these previous experiences to better strategize a way to liberate the struggling Syrian people without empowering a radical, violent Islamic faction. This is their real task, one much larger than the question of simple air strikes.

Our task, as the American people, is to decide where politics coincide with morality.

When, if at all, do we as a superpower have a moral obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves? When do we not only speak support for those wanting freedom, but act upon those words?

How high does a death toll climb before we're too uncomfortable to sit still?

I am not eager to see American lives even slightly endangered in another Middle Eastern conflict. I am incredibly worried about a Russian response to an American airstrike, as Russia is Syria's greatest benefactor.

These concerns are deeply troubling, but even more so is inaction. To not act is to not back our threats to the Assad regime, and to fall short of the principles to which we ascribe as a nation founded on supporting freedom.

I, with many other people, including likely many in our government and many in Syria, wish that diplomacy could singlehandedly provide resolution, but there's no way to longer be diplomatic with a government that systematically kills its own people.

As the time drags on, more people suffer at the hands of a violently oppressive regime. How much longer will other countries let them? Will it be indefinite? In the words of our president, "Are we going to try to find a reason not to act? And if that's the case, then I think the (world) community should admit it."