Photography project works to give voice to students in Rundberg neighborhood

Kylie Fitzpatrick

Students in the School of Social Work assisted a group of Northeast Austin middle school students with a photography project depicting life in the Rundberg community through the eyes of the youth. 

The photography project was completed by students enrolled in a summer program, designed for at risk youth at Dobie Middle School as part of Restore Rundberg, an Austin Police Department initiative that aims to reduce crime in the neighborhood. The project developed out of a UT class taught this summer by social work professor Cal Streeter. According to Streeter, much of the course content focused on the real-world question of how to engage a community like Rundberg, such as giving students an opportunity for hands-on experience. 

“They get to see first-hand how empowering that is for, in this case, the group of students,” Streeter said. “One of the projects we decided to do was to learn more about the community through the eyes of young people in the community, and photo-voice is one methodology that you can use to do that.”

Angela Baucom, social work graduate student, was one of four UT students who walked the middle school students through the process of taking photographs that captured life in their community and how to explain what made their pictures meaningful. She said she had a slightly different perspective than some of her fellow social work students because she used to work as a teacher in the public schools. 

“I came at it from that point of view, of reaching out to kids and trying to get them involved in their community, which is something that I’ve done in the past,” Baucom said. 

Baucom said the project was not something originally outlined in the APD initiative, which receives federal funding from the Obama administration's Neighborhood  Revitalization Initiative.

“This is kind of a next step beyond just the actions that have been taken to try and kind of approach some of the crime in the area,” Baucom said. “This is more about incorporating the youth perspective to enhance the relationship not only between the APD and the community, but also just the project in general and the community. 

David Contreras, executive director and founder of LaunchPad the Center, a nonprofit organization which hosted the afterschool program for the students, said the experience was personally impactful for the younger students because they felt like they were able to share their perspective on their own community. 

“I guess the bottom line is they felt empowered to really convey a part of the city that, unless you’re from this part of the city, it’s hard to identify with the different types of challenges that exist on East Rundberg Lane,” Contreras said. “They felt like, ‘Somebody wants to hear how we think.’”

Baucom said the project will continue this semester — seven new middle school students will be participating in the program this semester. 

“Personally, I always love seeing young people engaged in creative pursuits,” Baucom said. “That’s not an opportunity a lot of youth get, especially youth in areas like the Rundberg neighborhood that are suffering economically and from heightened crime.