A Matter of Course: Documentary Production, Baltimore Stories

By Magazine Staff  |  Photo by David Rehor
Kaye Whitehead


Kaye Whitehead, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication, is a three-time New York Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker and the 2006-07 Gilder Lehrman Maryland History Teacher of the Year. This semester she is also leading an oral history/writing workshop for the women at My Sister’s Place Women’s Center.


In this advanced video production course, students write and produce digital stories about the lives and experiences of women who visit the My Sister’s Place Women’s Center, a downtown Baltimore shelter for women who are temporarily experiencing homelessness. The students audio-record the stories and pair them with photography and videos from the city. “We are looking at the issues of race, class, and gender as they coalesce in Baltimore City,” said Whitehead. “The class and the interactions with the women are tools I am using to bring light to social injustice and to expose my students to new and different experiences.”


Whitehead is asking her students to pause at points in the semester to consider their experiences. “We will ask what are we learning not just about the women, but what are we learning about ourselves? We’re going to use these Jesuit values to seek to define ourselves and evaluate who we are,” she said. “Once we stretch our students’ imaginations, stretch their creative limits, stretch their natural tendency to remain in these borders, they can never go back again.”


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As Whitehead sends students to My Sister’s Place, the Maryland Historical Society, Enoch Pratt Free Library, and other places throughout Baltimore, she encourages them to get to know the city. “If Baltimore to you is just The Wire or The Corner or Homicide, then you don’t truly know the fabric of the city. It reminds me a lot of New York in the sense that every community is just so different. I believe that if you allow yourself to truly experience the city as it really is, you will be surprised at how much Baltimore has to offer.”


To help the students connect with the subjects of their documentaries, they volunteer once a week at My Sister’s Place. “You might be serving food, you might be helping to clean up, you might be teaching reading, you could be doing a number of different things,” Whitehead tells them. “It’s all so you can make a connection with these women.”


Victoria Rainone, ’12, of Long Island, N.Y., was initially concerned that the residents might not be receptive to her presence at My Sister’s Place. While she was serving lunch there on her first day volunteering alone, however, one of the diners started a conversation. “It’s a really good life lesson class,” Rainone said. “As a communication major, it’s important for me to know how to incorporate real life and real stories with the digital world because that’s really the world that we’re living in today.”

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