Heartfelt stories captured on video form core of CUPID inclusivity course


When charged with interviewing folks from the Pitt Health Science community about their feelings and experiences related to social identity, social justice and an inclusive and equitable campus environment, surprisingly unique insights resulted when the interviewers turned the cameras and questions on themselves.

John Guinane, media producer for the University Center for Teaching and Learning, who did much of the videography for the CUPID project’s organizing team, said the role reversal exercise proved a revelatory experience.

“People in this interview were interviewed,” he said during a virtual meeting with University Times. “We all got on camera, because we wanted to make sure that we told our stories — that people understood who the people behind the scenes were.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to interview people for two-and-a-half hours, three hours, three-and-a-half, for one. … You know, they’re being vulnerable on camera, so we had to be vulnerable on camera too,” he added. “I felt like it was just right to do that.”

These interviews serve as core source material for the CUPID — Community, Pedagogy, Identity, Difficulty — Project, an introductory, self-paced learning tool available to anyone in the Pitt Health Sciences community, including students, staff, trainees and faculty. 

If CUPID, a Pitt Seed 2.0 Semi-Finalist, is well-received, the leadership team will propose expanding the project beyond the Health Sciences for Phase 5 of Pitt Seed Funding. CUPID is collecting data from participants to substantiate the proposal.

Considered a study as well as a course, the three-module CUPID is open through March 31, with enrollment closing on March 5. Based on two weeks per module, the “completely asynchronous” but interactive course will be open indefinitely for those enrolled, said Adriana Vieira, assistant dean for diversity, inclusion and social justice in the School of Dental Medicine. The time commitment is estimated at no more than 20 hours through the six-week span. Click here to enroll.

The next section of the course is expected to open in May, with the exact date to be determined.

Supplemented with academic literature on concepts such as social identity and intersectionality, CUPID uses documentary style video interviews of Pitt faculty, staff and students to guide learners in fostering an inclusive University environment. It aims to help create “an inclusive and equitable campus environment in the schools of the Health Sciences” by serving as an entry point to the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion space.

The course was created by a team that included Guinane, along with Robin Albright, instructional designer in the Teaching Center’s Next Generation Learning Initiatives unit;  faculty from the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences — Susan Graff, Karthik Hariharan, Kathryn Reed — and Lilcelia “CeCe” Williams, occupational therapy postdoctoral associate. Vieira designed and developed the sequence of online courses.

Curating stories

Once the participant interviews got started, the concept of asking specific questions organically morphed into a more stream-of-consciousness, storytelling realm.

“I think we initially thought that we wanted to ask specific types of questions and we wanted to speak about certain themes and topics and things like that,” said Hariharan, assistant professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies. “But as we found when the interviews (started), it was just very organic to sort of go in different directions.”

The list of questions served as a guide, but “when we went back and looked at it, ultimately it sort of captured what we wanted, but we just didn’t follow a set of questions like ‘This is what we need to ask.’ It was more like a conversation that everybody had during their interviews,” he added. “And if you look at the interviews, they are all probably about two, three hours long at the minimum, and it was just sort of like a conversation. It didn’t feel like an interview in most settings at all.”

CeCe Williams said the interactive framework for the interview process allowed for sharing a wide range of feelings and experiences.

“It was always very meaningful and intentional. Yes, it was semi-structured, but that left the longevity and the fluidness to be able to say, ‘Hey, you just mentioned a concept I’ve never heard before. Let’s explore that. Can you give us an example?’ And then that would take us down these amazing roads that, three hours later, we realize we just had an open candid conversation with old friends,” she said. “We were all old friends having a great time.”

Robin Albright said the resulting video-based stories are presented in as unadulterated a form as possible.

“We have all treated those stories as if we were stewards or caretakers of those stories,” she said. “We have tried to give as much space and respect to the interview subjects as possible. Within the limitations of having deadlines and putting out a course, we wanted as much of the raw story to be intact in the videos as we could.”

Approaching the course as a learning experience, whether you’re a faculty member, on Pitt staff or a student, Albright said through the care, dignity and space given to the subjects, “it becomes clear right away that the most compelling material in the course — and the course curates a lot of different types of material — are these interviews from people that are in your academic community. It will take your breath away.”

From struggles to privilege

While many of the stories shared come from negative or disheartening experiences from the way participants have been treated, or felt excluded, others touch on conflicted feelings of having many things fall in their proverbial lap.

“I think it was important to explore the challenges that people had, but also explore the other side of that,” Guinane said. “‘Hey, maybe you’re being treated differently in society, but how are you privileged?’ Like, exploring all of that. Some people felt privileged, who were very similar to other people who didn’t, and it just came out — every side of it came out, I think.”

In one instance, a left-handed dental student shared her story of trying to learn in an environment where the equipment is traditionally set up on the right side. 

Albright, who heard about this student then watched the interview, said it made an indelible impact on her.

“I will think about the dental equipment being for somebody that’s right-handed every time I walk into the dentist’s office for the rest of my life,” she acknowledged. “And the way the stories are told by these people that live them, it’s not just that they’re in our communities, and these are the lived experiences of the people around us, it’s just that there’s something really universal about people sharing lived experiences, even when they are not like yours.

“I think that anybody taking this course — and the people working on this course with me — can appreciate that,” she added. “That makes the story so illuminating and so engaging to watch and to listen to.”

Emphasizing how “everybody in the team learned so much,” Adriana Vieira said the left-handed dental student anecdote resonated with her own experience, while also illustrating CUPID’s goal to “make everything that we learned a better experience for the next (people) we’re going to encounter.”

“When I was seeing patients last week, one of my students was on the other side and he (said) ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m left-handed.’ And I was like, ‘You don’t have to be sorry, because you were born left-handed and you don’t have to apologize,’ ” she said.

“When we listen to their stories, then we can click like, ‘Oh my gosh, I never realized. Well, I knew that, but I never considered that in my little bubble.’ ”

Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at shannonw@pitt.edu.


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