cartoon with three women that says celebrate color

Head, Heart, and Humor: CAM Student PSA Greatest Hits

September 1, 2020

Can you take a large concept like systemic racism or time travel and explain it in 30, 45, or 60 seconds? That is exactly what students in the College of Arts & Media Motion 2 class were asked to accomplish—and they had to do it in a visually appealing way.

Dumb Ways to Die is an Australian PSA by Metro Trains in Melbourne that promoted railway safety. It went viral through social media in 2012.

Visual Arts Department Chair Michelle Bauer Carpenter, MFA, assigned a public service announcement (PSA) in which students could choose any issue they’re passionate about. She used the Dumb Ways to Die PSA and campaign as a model, because it’s “clever, cute, and memorable.” The goal is to create a PSA that doesn’t feel obviously educational. “I have my students think about the three Hs—Head, Heart, and Humor,” Carpenter said.

Professor Carpenter
Carpenter asked students to create animated PSAs on topics they are passionate about.
CAM student Marisela Romanita Guillen
CAM student Marisela Romanita Guillen
CAM student Huitzilli Oronia
CAM student Huitzilli Oronia

Animations Explain Race-Related Issues

Because the topic is open, students created truly diverse PSAs. Two of Carpenter’s students, Marisela Romanita Guillen and Huitzilli Oronia, took on race-related issues. Marisela chose to explain systemic racism. “I got to incorporate my love of activism into my design work,” she said.

Huitzilli Oronia’s PSA focuses on white fragility. “I learned about the concept of white fragility in a lecture class called Language, Identity and Power, guided by Cheryl Matias, PhD,” Huitzilli said. Both students experienced some difficulty trying to encapsulate these complex issues, but they took on these issues for personal reasons. “I knew that my message could be interpreted and misunderstood in a variety of different ways, but I felt like I needed to challenge the mainstream cultural practice of avoiding conversations about race,” she said.

What Do Time Travel and Spam Have in Common?

They’re funny. Some PSAs went in a decidedly different direction, focusing on passionate topics that are not so controversial. Matthew Park’s “SPAMSPAMSPAM” educates people about the canned meat, making a case for its taste and use. And Katey Marquette’s PSA, “Lumotech Teledarter,” explains the potential dangers of time travel.

Multiple students chose environmental and animal rights messages. Paige Reidarson explored ocean pollution in her PSA, “Plastic Pollution.” Another student, Breece Kelsey, used humor and colorful graphics to make the case against poaching with “Save the Rhino.” Cat overpopulation and global warming’s effect on polar bear habitat were also the subjects of student PSAs.

Ideally, an effective PSA should educate, entertain, and activate people. This is exactly what Dumb Ways to Die accomplished. The funny, popular campaign reduced public transit-related deaths and accidents by 21%, according to Smart Insights. “I feel it is important to use design, especially the medium of motion, to generate awareness and hopefully change,” Carpenter said.

PSA Animated Videos

Lumotech Teledarter by Katey Marquette
Plastic Pollution by Paige Reirdason
Save the Rhino by Breece Kelsey
Systemic Racism by Marisela Guillen
White Fragility by Huitzilli Oronia