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Class explores activism and social media

John Bartlet, professor of technology, discusses students’ plans for the future. He and Matthew Witt, associate professor of public administration, teach “This Space Taken: Political Activism and New Media in the 21st Century,” an Honors course helping students serve their passions to make a difference using technology. Bartlett has been teaching at the University for more than 10 years and is a part of the Occupy La Verne movement. / photo by Candica Salazar

Robert Penalber
Staff Writer

Professor of Education John Bartelt and Associate Professor of Public Administration Matthew Witt have teamed up this semester to lead an interdisciplinary seminar on activism.

“The idea is to have two professors from two different disciplinary areas come together to focus on a certain aspect for students,” Bartelt said. “It allows us to differentiate the La Verne experience.”

Both professors act as facilitators and lead student discussion about efforts to promote social, environmental and political change.

“A channel with one person really isn’t a channel; it’s an echo chamber,” Witt said.

The course encourages students to speak about modern-day issues and to recognize the evolving presence that the Internet has begun to play in political gathering and promoting democracy.

One current focus for the course is to examine the aspects of the Occupy movement as an arc for progressive uprising. This includes examining the movement in terms of its contradictory impulses and how it promoted cultural awareness.

By using materials in the class, which include documentary films, online media, and guest lecture presentations, students maximize their resources in order to assess the American democratic institutions from their foundation to the present.

A course outcome is that students will be able to understand the ways that media has been, and still is, used to frame values and perceptions, Bartelt said.

One assignment Bartelt and Witt gave students was to choose a song and analyze its true meaning through the artists’ context.

Students chose a diverse range of artists such as Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, John Mayer, Lupe Fiasco and Lily Allen.

The assignment allowed students to give their insights and interpretations of the messages within music.

Students will also learn how time spent online and cyberspace platforms can be used to promote and mobilize real political protest, Witt said.

Bartelt asked students to find their personal areas of interest for activism and encouraged them to log on to

The website allows for individuals to create a petition for numerous issues, and gives them to option to target Congress, state legislatures, or even corporate CEOs.

Another objective is that students investigate the history of change in class privilege and politics.

The students are being taught to articulate an understanding of relationships between power, obedience and prejudice.

Students use Howard Zinn’s text, “A People’s History of the United States” as a framework for analysis.

“The class is all about stirring change in students and making them more aware of their surroundings,” sophomore business major Ariel Cole said.

“It takes them out of the bubble that they’ve been placed in.”

Students participate by relating content to describe the social structure in the American context.

The class is based heavily on participation, discussion, group projects, and written reflections and meets every Tuesday and Thursday in Miller 212.

The honors students in this course focus on activism in order to fight the norm that today’s generation is not as involved in comparison to past generations.

“The main objective of the course is to get students to start thinking about the mechanisms for change,” Bartelt said.

Robert Penalber can be reached at

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