Slavery still exists today. This notion is what drives students working on the Ball State English department’s Digital Literature Review, an academic journal produced by undergraduate students in an immersive learning program.
On Dec. 1, 1865, the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States of America. Fast forward 150 years to present day, and there are still at least 27 million slaves worldwide, according to slaveryfootprint.org.
Students involved in creating the DLR are split into three groups: editorial, publicity and design. Every student involved in the two-semester program is required to write a capstone research paper over the topic “Slavery Now.”
The DLR immersive learning program was founded last year by Adam Beach and Deborah Mix, associate professors of English. The topic and professor change every year, this year being the exception.
Beach stayed with the program this year to push it along as it is still in its early stages. Joyce Huff, associate professor of English, will take over next year. The topic is chosen by the professor based on their area of study.
Last year’s topic was “Historical Hauntings and Modern Manifestations,” and next year’s topic will be “Freak Shows and Human Zoos.”
“That’s the cool thing about this class,” said Esther Wolfe, a senior literature major. “Even when it’s their area of specialization, we’re still learning.”
Wolfe is the editorial team leader and has been a member of DLR for two years. The editorial team edits all of the content published for the issue.
Morgan Aprill, a senior English literature major, is the team leader for publicity. She spearheads the DLR’s social media campaign and oversees anything else necessary to publicize the group’s work.
“One of the biggest parts is making people aware since this is only our second year doing this,” said Jeff Owens, a junior creative writing major and publicity team member.
Students in the class spend the first semester focusing on mastering the art of critical conversation and immersing themselves in their research topic. The second semester is spent building the digital journal. The program is designed for sophomores, juniors and seniors, and is not limited to only English majors.
Alex Selvey, a senior anthropology major, is a member of the design team. The team is responsible for designing the digital journal, building the website and changing the visual layout of the website and logos. The team has had to make conscious decisions regarding their layout. For example, they avoided using the color red as it could be misconstrued to represent blood or violence, which is not the intended message.
With topics ranging from Jaycee Dugard to “The Hunger Games,” the DLR capstone papers are meant to reach a broad audience. Along with the capstone pieces, the DLR team posts blog entries on their website to show off smaller research projects.
“It’s amazing how divergent all of people’s interests are,” Wolfe said. “Everyone’s project is so cool and so radically diverse.”
Working hard on one project for an entire school year has had an effect on the students involved.
“The hardest part about working on this project is that it can kind of feel like it’s never done,” Selvey said.
Along with time consumption, “Slavery Now” has affected students emotionally.
“Studying slavery for a year is emotionally difficult,” Wolfe said. “All of us sort of had times where we broke down.”
Aside from the heavy tolls the DLR has left on its creators, the project is majorly seen as a positive influence.
“I think everyone in this class has said that this has been the most fulfilling, exciting experience they’ve had as an undergraduate,” Wolfe said.
Aprill agrees with Wolfe, saying, “Honestly, this is my favorite thing that I’ve done while I’ve been here at Ball State.”
The immersive learning class will unveil the DLR issue at 5 p.m. on April 20 in the Schwartz Digital Complex in Bracken Library.
The group will present critical conversations on the theme of slavery and the process of building the journal. Each person will also give an individual presentation on his or her capstone project. The projects will be set up in pods so attendees can make their way around the room to each project.