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Zooming In

Campus | February 20, 2018

Cloaked by the painted red walls of Renee’s Cafe in Teele Square, Rachel Sobel and Amanda Rose were sitting across from each other in deep conversation about the proper size of a pancake when they shifted gears and began to brainstorm a new way to lift up Tufts’ student narratives: The Athena Project. A filmed docu-series that focuses on sharing the stories of those with marginalized gender identities within the Tufts community, the two envisioned The Athena Project as a platform for narratives that are too often left untold. Sobel, a sophomore, and Rose, a junior, have based the style of The Athena Project off of the popular docu-series Humans of New York. Each episode will be themed and will tell the personal experiences of multiple interviewees as people first and Tufts students second. Rose explained their motivation for taking on the project: “We are both passionate about storytelling, feminism, and opening up intersectional platforms for people to tell their stories. [We] wanted to create something…to illuminate the lives of people of marginalized genders at Tufts.”

As co-creative directors, Sobel and Rose wanted to include as many different narratives as possible, so they reached out to various clubs and organizations on campus and asked people to help circulate their Google Form. Since the inception of the project in December, they have gathered 70 submissions and are now gearing up to start shooting interviews. Sobel commented on the kinds of narratives the Athena Project will showcase: “[These are] completely human stories that everyone faces, but that aren’t told enough because so often stories of people with marginalized genders are replaced with the stories of White cis male individuals.”

Sobel and Rose are conscious of the vulnerability required of the interviewees and have been intentional in the framing of the interviews. “We recognize that a lot of the themes that are going to be discussed are going to be very personal…so having people choose the space where they are going to be filmed is one way that we enhance the comfort of the interviewee,” Sobel explained. Aside from this, Sobel and Rose have also set up various ways to ensure that interviewees feel as comfortable and supported as possible throughout every step of the Project. “We’ve opened up the pool of interviewers to the general public, and we’ve gotten a big amount of interest,” Sobel said. She reiterated the importance of involving different types of people in all aspects of the Project, saying it was yet another way for them to incorporate multiple perspectives. Anyone interested in participating as an interviewer or crew member underwent a day of training during which they brainstormed interviewing questions and learned how to film an interview.

Senior Ray Bernoff is one of the co-producers, and speaks of his motivation to join the project: “As far as I know, TUTV hasn’t done anything like this before…and doing a project specifically about marginalized gender was interesting to me.” Given that projects about gender led by cis people run the risk of either misrepresenting or ignoring trans experiences, Bernoff added that he felt strongly that he should join the team: “I definitely also felt some responsibility to do it because I knew it was unlikely that a lot of other trans people were going to volunteer for it”.

Part of the reason why The Athena Project has gained so much traction in such little time is because the Project’s team makes an active effort to connect with everyone getting involved. First-year Hayden Wolff felt a bit unsure as to whether The Athena Project was something he wanted to contribute to, but after he spoke to Sobel, he immediately felt better. “She just went about it in a really good way that made me feel like my story was going to be told in an interesting way and not just focus on my identity as a trans person, but me as an entire person,” he said.

Ty Nguyen, a junior, echoes these sentiments, saying that friendship and personal connection played a large part in her deciding to join The Athena Project as an interviewee. She explained, “I didn’t think I’d be a person who’d be fit for the project, but then [my friend] Charlotte, who is on staff for The Athena Project, convinced me.” When asked why they wanted to be involved with The Athena Project, an anonymous first-year felt that the sharing of more stories from people on the gender spectrum would serve as a sense of encouragement. “[It will] encourage others to come forward and share their stories, and that will allow for a much more inclusive environment for all people on the gender spectrum,” they pointed out.

Regardless of their level of involvement, many hope that The Athena Project will act as a catalyst to increase visibility for all marginalized gender identities. Wolff explained his initial interest in the project, saying, “I felt like this would be a good way to get myself out there and get people more comfortable with my identity…just to say ‘yes, we exist, and there’s nothing wrong with us.'” Bernoff expressed similar goals for the project, saying, “I’m hoping it’ll be a resource for folks who don’t feel like they know that much about what kinds of experiences there are on this campus and how different people on campus experience gender.”

While The Athena Project came into existence in part due to the challenges people with marginalized gender identities are forced to deal with every day, it will also document their stories and lives beyond their gender identities. Rose explained that The Athena Project is just as much about creating visibility for these struggles as it is about “the humans that live here, and the joys and experiences of their lives.”