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A couple of years ago, Inside Higher Ed did a story on students at the Community College of Baltimore County and a podcast they were putting together. The point of the podcast was to have students tell their own stories and, in so doing, to debunk the stigma surrounding community college.

I loved the idea immediately and wrote the post below celebrating it. It struck me as an even more inclusive version of what college radio used to be.

I’m happy to report that the pod has launched! It’s called “Good School,” and it features students talking about what makes a good school, and why community college was a good school for them. I heard the first full episode on Tuesday and can report that it sounds very much like students; it isn’t buffed to a high gloss like so much marketing material. In the spirit of signal-boosting, you can use this link to find the pod on whichever app you use for podcasts. I recommend it wholeheartedly, and no, I'm not being paid to do so. It's just well worth checking out.

In the spirit of transparency, the original post from 2021 is reprinted below.

Anyone remember zines? Or “alternative” music?

Both flourished in the ’90s, having started somewhat earlier. Much of the “indie” music that hit big in the ’90s got its start on college radio stations in the ’80s, when college radio stations were some of the only media spaces available to young people. (Public access cable channels were pretty much the only other ones.) Zines were self-published magazines, often with a single author and on a single theme; in many ways, they were the analog forerunners of blogs.

While the quality of any given zine or college radio show was a roll of the dice, both offered appeal as venues for people who were otherwise shut out of the discourse to express themselves.

Every few years, new variants on the theme come along. Social media offered an explosion of platforms; suddenly the issue isn’t so much being shut out as being drowned out. How does someone who isn’t already established break through?

That’s probably why I was so taken with the story of the student podcasters at the Community College of Baltimore County. As college radio folk did decades ago, they’re riding an institutional affiliation to get some attention paid to their stories. I recognize the impulse.

Podcasts offer a world of potential for students. They’re relatively cheap to produce, particularly if they don’t include video. They lend themselves to an episodic structure. They let people speak for themselves, in their own words and their own style. Given a theme, they can unfold over time. They even work for fiction as well as for nonfiction; if I were decades younger and had the time on my hands, I could see myself working on a podcast in the style of Scooby-Doo mysteries. (“I would have gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling kids …”) Locating Scooby-Doo–style mysteries on a college campus is almost too easy. And a given mystery could unfold over multiple episodes.

In the case of the CCBC students, though, they’re telling a story that both needs to be told and that aligns beautifully with the institution whose coattails they’re riding. They’re addressing the community college stigma head-on, including through autobiography.

Yes, yes, yes.

A couple of years ago Steve Robinson, now the president at Lansing Community College, did a podcast series in support of #EndCCStigma. I was honored to be the first guest. It was a lot of fun—my dog even made an unscheduled appearance, warning away the evil UPS —but it wasn’t student-produced. This is. No disrespect to Steve Robinson, whom I know and like, but it’s different coming from students directly. When they make the choices, the choices they make will tell stories in themselves.

Projects like these are the best kind of education. They allow students some exposure to civilian audiences beyond their professor, which alone tends both to improve effort and give a more representative sense of the world. They allow students to become educators, teaching the rest of us what the world looks like when you’re that age now. (I get some of that from my kids and can report that it’s often bracing.)

Kudos to the students at CCBC for stepping up. They’re providing a public service in debunking a stigma that does real harm. And I suspect they’re having a blast doing it. The medium may have evolved, but the indie spirit lives on …

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