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Journalism, Sociology Class Captures Angst, Hope in the Mon Valley

In places like the hard-hit Mon Valley, stories of individuals are often told by journalists armed with curiosity, and stories of society often are told by sociologists fortified with analysis.

A perfect union of rising journalists and potential sociologists at Duquesne University is being led by Maggie Patterson, professor of journalism and multimedia arts, and Dr. Douglas Harper, professor of sociology and the Rev. Joseph A. Lauritis, C.S.Sp. Endowed Chair in Teaching with Technology.

"It struck Maggie and me if we could teach a class that is one-half journalism and one-half sociology, we could help each other," Harper said. "Journalists could learn to use sociological sources and reasoning. Sociologists could learn to write better."

This is the fourth time that Harper and Patterson have brought graduate and undergraduate students together to enrich the story telling, reasoning and data-finding skills and to envision their work as social justice. Their collaboration, built on a previous two-semester course last year focused on recovery, is now looking more closely at the communities themselves in the class Mon Valley Steel Towns: The Anatomy of a Social Disaster.

On Saturdays, class members land in the Mon Valley, learning about the neighborhoods of Braddock, McKeesport and Clairton, meeting community organizers and families, and building on interviews with recovering men who live in a halfway house. The experiences are captured in stills, video and words.

"We are analyzing every minute of film we shot and transcribing every word," Harper said, looking for large-scale themes and focusing on social justice in American industrial capitalism. Students are comparing the main streets of Homestead and Braddock then and now; the roles of sports, race and class; the relentless efforts to rise above.

"We engage the people and engage the civic process, and see how people try to salvage what's left in the community," Patterson said.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.