Dress to Express: Youth Outreach Every summer, students from rural counties surrounding Western Kentucky University are offered a five-week summer program on the campus in Bowling Green. The program is for participants in TRIO Upward Bound (UB). Upward Bound prepares students for college academically, culturally, and socially through meetings during the academic year as well as the summer program. For 2017, UB students experienced a unique cultural exploration in “Dress to Express.” Inspired by Vol. 1 of the Journal of Folklore and Education, WKU’s “Dress to Express” is funded through December 2018 by WKU’s Office of Research and Creative Activities thanks to a proposal by graduates and faculty of WKU Folk Studies, Rebecca Smith, Virginia Siegel, and Tim Evans.
During program, 15 students investigated personal expression and cultural identity in dress and adornment during class discussions and were introduced to ethnography through assignments to observe and sketch the clothing of those around them. Guest speakers presented on wearing hijab and creating theater costumes. A favorite assignment was a self-portrait: students created and shared a portrait that conveyed their personality through choices of clothing, props, lighting, and location. For their final project, the class created a presentation for their peers and UB staff on the final awards night. Students elected to showcase what they learned about both personal and group expression. They did this by taking a group photo in similar T-shirts that was displayed on a screen at awards night, then recreating the photo in their clothing for the evening, reflecting individual choice. Rising junior Bennie Guzman explained the photograph:
This photo taken of the Dress to Express class for WKU Upward Bound…shows who we are as a whole, as a team…Our postures in the photograph show our stance in relation to what grade we will be entering at the beginning of the upcoming high school academic year…Even though each person was positioned in a specific spot for the photograph, the expressions on each person’s face were different. Some smiled, some seemed confident, others were serious, and some even tried to hide. All of this reflects upon who that person is and adds emotion to the picture. This moment represents everyone.
For the presentation, rising junior Makayla Duncan wrote, “Today we are recreating the photo we all took as a group…only we are wearing different clothing. We decided to do this to show two different sides of ourselves, one of us as a big group…and the second of us as we express ourselves.”
Counselors and students alike relished the summer project, and coordinators are looking forward to offering another series of “Dress to Express” in the fall and spring to groups of local high school students. The syllabus called upon JFE articles such as “Writing a Sartorial Autobiography” from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Will to Adorn Project and “Clothes Encounters of the Room 202 Kind,” by Mark Wagler. Future projects will add Local Learning Dress to Express Museum Modules to the curriculum.