Meet the freshmen learning performance online

Lucia Verzola

Staff Writer

PASJ freshmen Rawan Abdalla and Mersaydes Barika collaborated remotely to introduce their video “Self Love,” an entry into their currently-virtual performance major. LUCIA VERZOLA/FOGHORN

With the fall semester being exclusively online, first-year performing arts and social justice (PASJ) majors have experienced their beginnings of the program quite differently than those before them. The only undergraduate program of its kind in the U.S., PASJ gives students the tools to incorporate social justice into their artistic craft of dance, music, or theater. In an attempt to build community and express their creativity outside of campus and the traditional classroom setting, the PASJ department gave first-year students the opportunity to collaborate with their classmates on videos inspired by social issues present in our world today. Though they have never met in-person, these videos offered a way to bring the newest additions to the PASJ program together and were shared on Vimeo.

PASJ freshman William Locke has been passionate about theater for the last six years; he was drawn to USF’s theater studies program because of its social justice element. A native of Buffalo, New York, Locke is spending the semester in Hilo, Hawaii. “Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, social unrest, fires, and other dilemmas across the globe, I and my grandmother moved 5,000 miles away from our homes to seek out a brighter future,” Locke said. It was this move that inspired Locke’s video which he created and shared with his classmates, titled “Collapse of the Past and Success of the Future.”  

“I read a poem that I wrote about the dangers of today’s world, and how we must explore the unexplored to find a positive and exciting outlook during the fall of earth,” he said. Locke is impressed by the passion his classmates have expressed in the classroom and in their videos, demonstrating their shared need for change. 

Freshman Rawan Abdalla also has a theater concentration in the PASJ program. Though from Burnsville, Minnesota, she decided to spend the semester in Seattle, living with her aunt in order to be in the Pacific time zone. Abdalla committed to USF because of her acceptance into the Black Scholars Program and only learned about PASJ after she decided to attend USF. She collaborated with fellow PASJ freshman, who she met in the introduction to her major class, Mersaydes Barika, to create the video “Self Love.” 

“We decided to focus the piece solely on mental health and the struggles the young girls face with loving themselves,” Abdalla said. “We wanted to spread awareness and shed light on an issue that affects many people.” Although the collaborative experience was difficult to navigate through a screen at times, Abdalla said, “It was refreshing having new ideas and different perspectives.”

Freshman Megan Johnson is spending the semester from her hometown, Dalton, Georgia. She is double majoring in PASJ and media studies and minoring in journalism. Though she was excited to attend USF for its cosmopolitan location, she is appreciative of the care the University took in choosing to conduct the semester virtually. “I have formed connections with the classmates in the program! We have created a group chat outside of class, and it has been really nice to get to know everyone,” she said. 

Johnson collaborated with classmates on multiple videos, drawing inspiration from the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote and the injustice in the American education system. In one video, she worked with fellow classmate Joely Kaatz, who played the flute while Johnson sang “I Don’t Care Much,” a song from the musical “Cabaret.” Describing the song as one that “addresses the apathy towards art, love, and life that can arise during dire circumstances,” Johnson and Kaatz felt it was fitting with the state of our world today. She finished the project feeling inspired by those she worked with, as well as by those who created the other videos.

Despite being spread across the country, Abdalla, Johnson, and Locke are all hopeful for their future in the PASJ program at USF. “Seeing my classmates’ creations, I had to sit back for a second and remember that I’m in a major filled with the most talented people,” Abdalla said.

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