Penn State Abington film series highlights social justice

Karen Halnon, associate professor of sociology at Penn State Abington, never thought a student trying to wrangle extra credit would inspire a moniker for her film discussion series. But as she talked to the young man, he mentioned that sociology challenged him to “think outside the box.”

The phrase meshed with Halnon’s objective to spur insight through thematically related films – thus the Out of the Box series was christened. Now in its third year, it has evolved from casual late Friday afternoon gatherings to an integral component of an upper-level seminar course.

This semester, 18 students in Halnon’s African-American Racial Consciousness seminar watch the Out of the Box films during class. The theme is social justice, illustrated by the true stories of street gangs, unions, religious groups, political movements and even an anti-Nazi herione.

“Students must write a final paper comparing the struggle for social justice by African-Americans with struggles of others we studied through the films and discussions,” Halnon said.

They are joined by a rotating cast of community members and students, who may attend regardless of whether they are registered for the course.

“It’s an opportunity for first- and second-year students to see what is expected in an upper-level class,” she said. “We learn so much from media. And now it’s a medium for bringing people together after hours.”

And adding to the allure of attending art-house films for free, the Out of the Box film series literally provides food for thought -- pizza and drinks are served during the pre-film discussion. “It helps to stimulate thinking,” Halnon said with a laugh.

The Out of the Box series will screen two more films this semester: "Romero" on Oct. 19 and "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Chavez – Inside the Coup" on Nov. 2. The films are free and begin at 6 p.m. in Room 101, Rydal Building, 1600 Woodland Road, Abington.

For more information on the Out of the Box film series, go to