Next time you are down at the Travers/Wolfe Dining Hall, grabbing a side of mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, take a moment to check out what’s on the television.
In between videos from The Killers and Kayne West, something different is at work: involvement, activism and social change.
mtvU, Viacom’s flagship college station, broadcasts to students in the dining hall each night. It is MTV’s attempt to cater to the college crowd, one deluded by pop stars in their teens and programming for which they feel too old. The channel fills its airtime not with reality shows and teenage heartthrobs, but with politics, social awareness and music straight off the college radio charts.
For an age group transitioning into occupation and adulthood, mtvU provides information and entertainment that is relevant to life beyond the glimmer of TRL. As the 2004 presidential election showed, many college students are capable of, and drawn to, political activism. This is the demographic mtvU seeks to mobilize.
“We recognize that college students are a vehicle for social change,” Ross Martin, vice president of Programming for mtvU, said.
Launched in January 2004, mtvU is currently available to 6.4 million students on college campuses across the country. Schools determine the level of programming they receive. Some get full access to mtvU across campus and in their dorm rooms. Others, like the College, only receive programming in dining halls and other public areas.
The mtvU team has developed a series of regular programs that are relevant to the everyday college student. “The Opening” is a series that features a day in the life of a recent college graduate on the job, giving students an idea of what they have to look forward to. Interested viewers are encouraged to visit mtvU.com during the show to apply for a similar job through mtvU’s career hub.
“The good thing about our programming is that it is designed to enable college students to move forward in whichever direction they choose,” Martin said. “Whether you are inclined to social action or not, mtvU becomes a resource for getting involved.”
To spread the word about the humanitarian crisis in the Sudan, mtvU created the Sudan initiative. The first phase of the project used the channel as a platform for educating students on the atrocities in Sudan. The next phase of the Sudan project will send three student correspondents to the Darfur region to report on the crisis from the front lines.
An outpouring of student support for the initiative has allowed the program to grow in scope.
“That’s what has been so tremendous,” Martin said. “We started to listen to student response, and it has been massive. We get calls and e-mails daily from students who are raising money and awareness to help this cause.”
With a staff of VJs all under the age of 30, mtvU finds it easy to cater to its target demographic.
“Our age provides a certain insight that is lost a lot in big corporations and even cable channels,” Gardner Loulan, a 21-year-old VJ, said. “It makes everyone here more aware of what our aim is.”
Contrary to popular belief, Loulan sees college students as some of the country’s most well informed citizens.
“I was politically and socially aware in college, and I think that of all the populations, college students are the most aware,” Loulan said. “They learn to think on a global scale, which is why it is so important that they are involved in our programming.”
Clearly, loyalty to the humanitarian projects runs deep within the corporation.
“I wish I could be one of the students going to the Sudan,” Loulan said. “It’s mind boggling to be sitting here, knowing that these types of atrocities are going on in the world.”
Aside from activism, there is, of course, the music, a more eclectic mix than that seen on more mainstream music television.
“It is a great variety of music of many different styles, but it is integrated quite well,” Loulan said. “There is a lot of good music on this channel. If there wasn’t, I would have trouble promoting it.”
But at the end of the day, it is the chance to spark social change that keeps the company running.
“I get up and come to work everyday because mtvU is a channel, and an audience, with a conscience,” Martin said.