Sitting in architecture professor Scott Shall’s “Guerilla Altruism” class, sophomore Emily Hooven was thinking of how she would tackle this year’s assignment: taking on the food industry and all of its problems by combining the improvisational techniques of guerilla warfare with the humanitarian spirit of altruism.
Drawing on her own struggles with type 1 diabetes, with which she was diagnosed at age 10, she decided to put her major in film and media arts to work and teamed up with classmates Tom Simon, a sophomore, and Matthew Law-Phipps, a freshman, to start a YouTube channel called Diabetes Diaries. Designed for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics, the channel features short, man-on-the-street videos, in which people share stories of personal struggle with the disease.
“I got interested in the project because I’m at risk of getting type 2 diabetes,” said Simon. “My father and uncle both have type 2 diabetes, so it’s something I have to avoid by eating correctly and exercising regularly.”
“I noticed when interviewing people on the street that most of them mentioned a kind of secrecy among the diabetics they knew,” said Hooven. “They said that most of them didn’t really talk about their struggles with the disease and they went to the bathroom to test their blood sugar or give themselves insulin. Our hope is that Diabetes Diaries will provide a kind of release for them, that they can come out with their true thoughts and feelings about the disease.”
The students also hope that Diabetes Diaries will raise awareness about the disease and help put a human face on some of the staggering statistics surrounding diabetes — in Philadelphia alone, the rate of new diabetes cases is more than five times higher than the national average.
“In the beginning of the class I worked a lot with statistics: ‘1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will contract early-onset diabetes,’ or ‘the ratio is 1 in 2 for minorities,’” said Hooven. “While these figures are compelling, they are nameless and faceless. Hopefully the videos will make the seriousness of diabetes more real.”
Moving past the man-on-the-street tactic, the crew invites other diabetics or friends and family members of diabetics to contribute their own videos, which can be found at Youtube.
“I hope that as more people contribute to Diabetes Diaries, it can become a great source of information on how people live with diabetes,” said Simon.
“In some cases, diabetes is completely avoidable, and maybe these videos will contribute to the sharing of knowledge and information,” said Hooven. “I intend for Diabetes Diaries to go on long after this class has ended.”