A History of Selfies: Year Two of Social Justice Thru the Arts

This article was originally published on Source.

For the second summer, the Alliance Partnership and the College of Liberal Arts at CSU have provided Colorado high school students with a creative and artistic way to explore social justice and experience CSU through the Social Justice Thru the Arts institute (SJTA).

The students explored the summer’s theme of “self and community” through a variety of interdisciplinary activities, including poetry, theater of the oppressed, dance, music, creative writing, journaling, talking circles, and mindfulness. Graphic artist and communications manager for the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art, Silvia Minguzzi, was the lead artist who conceptualized the program about identity, representation, and the “history of selfies.”

“Diversity can be as simple and as rich as a different point of view,” says Minguzzi. “This year we engaged our students with an art project that researched and celebrated diversity, but especially encouraged them to embrace their own identity through the study of selfies. Questions asked of the students included:

Do we define ourselves by our beauty or our uniqueness? Is our uniqueness also our beauty? What if we learned to take selfies that emphasized our creativity, our uniqueness, and also our beauty?

Fourteen high school students plus a junior mentor were guided by four undergraduate student mentors and three CLA faculty/staff members in the activities and conversations about gender equity, belonging, access, and justice, as well as conversations about careers in the arts and how the creative process is part of a person’s story.

“Dr. Patricia Vigil with the Alliance Partnership has been integral in the development of these institutes and really had the vision for SJTA, bringing our programs — CSU Dance, Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research, and the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art — together to develop an integrated experience for these students,” says Lisa Morgan, instructor of dance. “Through an arts integrated curriculum, including visual art, dance/movement, writing and music, students explore social justice concepts, nurture individual and collective voice, find common ground, celebrate community, and foster communication across differences.”

“We want to emphasize the process, not an end result,” says Caridad Souza, assistant professor of women’s and gender studies and Social Justice Thru the Arts program director. “The week is responsive, fluid, and open-ended.”

“The students seemed to enjoy taking selfies that meant more than just self display. Combined with all they learned about self-portraiture and power, privilege, and difference, they took stunning photos that spoke to their experiences in powerful ways,” says Souza. “Over the course of the week they went from knitted-eyebrow looks of bewilderment to open, expressive faces filled with creative flair. We were so thrilled about the photos they produced and the work they were able to accomplish while on campus.”

At the end of the week, students performed their selfies for family and guests through a projection of their sketches, recitation of their poems, dance and music, and then enjoyed a celebration lunch.

“Students leave the institute empowered to take action, to advocate for change and to explore opportunities and options in their schools, their communities and lives beyond high school,” says Morgan.

Beyond the intangible results that students experience, the program is also seeing a tangible one: the first student admitted from the Social Justice Thru the Arts program has started their college career at CSU, exploring a women’s and gender studies major.

“Our goal [with SJTA] is to promote a college-going culture in underserved communities, and it looks like we might just be meeting our goals,” says Souza.

Social Justice Thru the Arts 2019 Artist Statement


Angie Dominguez
Damaris Valencia Mota
Jacqueline Garcia
Kalynn Bledsoe
Keiran Cardenas
Lauren Martinez
Maria Cisneros-Herrera
Sierra Gordy
Sergio Sinaloa
Viviana Retana

Selfies are usually viewed as all about the individual, but when you see our selfies you see our true community. In our communities, there are many differences, but within these we find strength and promote unity. This work challenges the conventions of society, our careless interactions with the earth, and the toxic mindsets that persists within it. We will continue to challenge society and to promote unity to cultivate a new world. 

Through this work we are united.
We are the change.
I am respect.
I am an independent woman.
I am more than my body.
I am unique.
I am humanity.
I am mother nature.
I am my true colors.
I am a dreamer.
I am an everlasting memory.
I am unapologetic.
We are the future.

CSU Alliance Partnership

Colorado State University Alliance Partnership identifies 10 public high schools in Colorado to promote access to higher education. Schools were chosen based on a number of factors: student eligibility for the free or reduced lunch program; racial and ethnic makeup; the number of students who represent the first generation in their family to attend college; and schools that represent diverse geographic regions of the state. All students from these high schools are encouraged to attend college. Services and resources promoting college readiness are provided, and summer residential programs with undergraduate and graduate mentors are offered. Students receive an award of $4,000 per academic year and the Alliance Transfer Award is available for Alliance high school graduates who attend a Colorado community college prior to transferring to Colorado State University. The Alliance Partnership offers five summer institutes to Alliance high school students.

Dr. Patricia Vigil is Director of University Partnerships and Student Success and Director of the Alliance University Partnership Relations.