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Media Studies co-sponsors national online teen outreach program

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A national educational outreach program to encourage conversations among teenagers and leading educators about popular culture and media convergence is now happening and will run through May 15.

The program, which will occur on line on Monday nights, is sponsored by the Program in Comparative Media Studies(CMS), in cooperation with

Professor Henry Jenkins, outreach coordinator and director of CMS, noted that the first anniversary of the shooting deaths of several students in Littleton, CO, would fall midway through the online program.

"The Columbine High School shootings (on April 19, 1999) provoked national soul-searching about American education, handguns, and violent entertainment," he said. Media coverage of the tragedy "dismissed key elements of today's teen culture as unimportant and dangerous or offering lurid visions of fringe or subculture communities among teens.

"Few public arenas offered youth a chance to speak or took seriously what they had to say about their cultural environment. This ensuing 'moral panic,' in part, reflected a lack of communication between teens and adults about popular culture and media change," Professor Jenkins added.

"This educational outreach is intended to solicit communication from a new generation of cultural participants. Our goal is to encourage open-minded exchanges with the goal of simply understanding the investments we make in our culture and identifying the ways media change impacts our lives," he said.

Commenting on the MIT/ project, Melissa Rekos, editor-in-chief of, said, "By encouraging teens to talk directly with leading educators at MIT, this is a unique opportunity to help begin a national conversation about how teens are embracing and using the media at all levels. We're proud to play a part in this historic connection."

Through education and communication between generations, Professor Jenkins hopes that teenagers and their families will begin to appreciate that the current media revolution is roughly equivalent in its impact to two other moments in human history: the introduction of the printing press in the 15th century and the introduction of mass media in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"Such moments of technological transformation provoked profound debates about shared values and institutional reforms," he said. "We need a national conversation about the current moment of media transition because the outcome is still subject to change. All segments of society must be heard as we set future directions for technological and cultural change."

In addition to the online chat sessions and "lobby discussions" moderated by 30 faculty, students and friends of CMS, Professor Jenkins will visit schools throughout the country to meet with students, parents and educators. Local presentations are designed to present an overview of the major issues being associated with popular culture and media convergence, as well as to invite participation in the online sessions.

Featured topics include:
��������� "Exploring the Dark Side: Fears and Anxieties about Popular Culture"
��������� "Where Do Teens Get News and Information?"
��������� "A Bloody Mess: Media and Violence"
��������� "Remembering Columbine: A Year Later"
��������� "Things We Don't Talk About: Race, Religion, Gender and Sexuality"
��������� "Talking about 'My' Generation: How Do Teens Characterize Themselves?"

Moderators include CMS faculty members Peter Donaldson (chair of the literature section), Joe Haldeman, Louie Kampf, Haydn Kernal, Kurt Lancaster, Chap Lawson, Marty Marks, Janet Sonenberg (chair of the theater department), Emma Teng, Christine Walley and Nicholas Wey-Gomez; graduate students Jim Bizzocchi, Cynthia Conti, David Spitz, Christa Starr and Christopher York; Michele Oshima, coordinator of the Program in Women's Studies; Stephen Brophy, film reviewer for Bay Windows; child psychologist Jon Katz; Brenda Laurel, founder of Purple Moon; and Mavis Lee, a US attorney at the Department of Justice.

For a complete program schedule and to participate in the online chat centers, go to the project web site on Monday evenings from 8:30-10pm from now through Monday, May 15.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 29, 2000.

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