Project MIMI builds connections with Jerusalem

13 June 2022

MIMI – Migration, Media, and Integration – is a project at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) that helped to establish a cooperation between the the Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem and Mainz University in 2021. Headed by Anna Fabienne Makhoul, MIMI could be the springboard for a new lively academic exchange. The first two seminars were a great joint success.

"Of course, students need to give presentations in class," says Anna Fabienne Makhoul. "But I'm also looking for more in the classes I'm teaching, i.e., something sustainable, tangible, which students will be able to look back on for years to come. I thought about involving an online blog that would include a wide variety of contributions from a range of different perspectives." This is one of the two key ideas behind the Migration, Media, and Integration project or MIMI for short. Makhoul continues, outlining the second concept: "In the very beginning, I wanted to focus on where and how people with a migrant background are represented in the media, whether they are portrayed positively or negatively, and what consequences this has for the various social groups. Later on, the scope was extended to include other topics. We began to deal with a whole range of socially relevant issues through MIMI. We focus on groups that are often marginalized within society as well as in the media. We invite minorities from all walks of life to tell their story. Furthermore, we deal with topics such as addiction, poverty, or mental health as presented in the media. These topics deserve more attention but are seldom portrayed in an unbiased manner, if at all."

German-Israeli cooperation

Makhoul invited two students who took part in the most recent MIMI seminar along to the interview. Sophie Steinfeld and Mathis Sieblist are happy to share their experiences and impressions. The JGU Department of Journalism is located in a building of the old Mainz University of the 15th century in the city center. It is here that Makhoul, in addition to her teaching and research activities, oversees the German-French Master's degree program in Transnational Journalism.

"We were a colorful bunch," recalls Steinfeld. Exchange students from Italy and Asia took part, as did students from the Department of Communication and the Department of Journalism at JGU. "Our six students from the Department of Journalism's binational Master's degree program – two from Paris, four from Mainz – took part," Makhoul remembers. Steinfeld is one of them. Moreover, the Department of Communication contributed eleven participants, including Sieblist. The JGU team met a similarly sized group from the Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem. "Our project is the very first collaboration the College has established with a German university," Makhoul emphasizes. "And this collaboration represented something special for us, too. This German-Israeli cooperation is a sign that the MIMI project is entering a new phase of development."

Makhoul started her teaching project MIMI in 2018 at the Department of Communication. "We focused on topics from social life, compared them with existing theories and models in our field, and the students were to analyze them from a journalistic perspective." For example, they conducted interviews with screenwriters of television formats such as the long-running German police drama "Tatort". They asked what possibilities there were for presenting a topic such as integration. Some students looked at ethnomedia, while others explored the origins of clichés and stereotypes portrayed in the media. They produced a multicultural local newspaper, a podcast, and many more contributions, all published on the MIMI website.

A lot of commitment and initiative

"It was a lot of work to set up the MIMI framework," Makhoul remembers. "But the feedback was so impressive and so positive that I really wanted to keep going. It's my most favorite project. I see my students actually progress as they make contributions and how much enthusiasm they have for what they do – that makes me very happy." MIMI has grown bigger and more complex over time. Makhoul put a lot of work into the project and even covered the costs for the design of the online blog all on her own. In 2020, MIMI's achievements were recognized and the project was awarded funding by the Gutenberg Teaching Council (GTC) of JGU. "I really appreciate this support."

Dr. Yossi David from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, holder of the first Israel Professorship at JGU's Department of Communication, contacted Makhoul with an idea: "He knew colleagues in Israel looking for a collaboration." And MIMI came to his mind instantly. The two contacted the Hadassah Academic College and after some preliminary discussions, the collaboration with Amir Cohen of the Department of Photographic Communication and Arik Segal of the Department of Politics and Communication got the go-ahead. While the first seminar was still online-only and student exchanges were not possible due to the Corona pandemic, the team looked for sponsors to realize future mutual visits. "Now we had funding, interested students, and a blossoming new partnership."

The first two collaborative MIMI seminars took place in the 2021 summer semester and the following winter semester, with two projects entitled "The Other Person" and "Media under Attack". "Although we had to organize the first seminar online due to COVID-19, our students from Mainz and Jerusalem developed excellent joint contributions," said Makhoul. "It was fascinating." The students got to know each other over the Internet. "We had lots of conversations, also on a personal level," remembers Sieblist, who took part in the second seminar.

Then, in 2022, the JGU students traveled to Jerusalem, with each participant from Jerusalem and Mainz given a specially-made hoodie to commemorate the collaboration, emblazoned with the words "Media Ambassador". "Unfortunately, I became ill just then and couldn't go to Israel," recalls Makhoul regretfully. Steinfeld adds: "Yes, we were so sorry about that. You devoted so much to the project – and then you couldn't join us." At least Makhoul was able to welcome the students and colleagues from the Hadassah Academic College on their return visit to Mainz. "We prepared goody bags for them and organized a program of events. I looked after the group for the whole week from dawn to dusk. The group was full of energy."

A project to be continued

Steinfeld and Sieblist recall details of the seminar and the visits here and there: Guests included Peter Frey, editor-in-chief of the German public-service broadcaster ZDF, who took part in a discussion with students in Mainz, as well as high-ranking politicians and well-known journalists, who met with the group in Israel. "In Jerusalem, we were tasked with conducting interviews with local people about the topics we had discussed before in the seminar," recounts Sieblist. "Jerusalem is a very international city. We met many people from the USA and, of course, the Arab population. I remember speaking to a young man working at a juice stand. He told me: 'Sure, there is racism here, too.'"

"In Germany, we are already concerned that a significant proportion of the population does not trust the media, even if this is a minority," says Steinfeld. "In Israel, on the other hand, we learned that the people there only rarely rely on the national media. They have much more faith in the military. For us in Germany this sounds rather strange." This fascination with the other country, or about "The Other Person", took up some time. As for the topic "Media under Attack", the students also learned a lot from observing each other: "We saw videos of television shows in which Israeli politicians fiercely criticized journalists," Steinfeld recalls. "This is part of everyday life in Israel. We, however, would be rather flabbergasted if a politician angrily cuts an interview short."

The exchange of perspectives not only brought the students closer together personally and culturally, but also opened up insights into the media and politics of the others' home country. It highlighted differences and similarities, which the students reflected upon and presented to each other, while at the same time supporting each other in their projects and tasks. As media ambassadors, they represented their countries and media landscapes.

The MIMI project website showcases the students' work over the past four years. All of the contributions are well worth reading, watching, or listening to, but just as important is a side of the project that is difficult to fully capture digitally. "It was an extraordinary seminar," says Sieblist. "Our exchange was very intensive and really forged friendships. We all enjoyed it immensely." And Makhoul adds happily: "The university gives us a lot of freedom to choose how we teach. We can incorporate our own ideas. Now our goal is to continue to augment MIMI. We are currently working on other topics, we are in dialog with our colleagues in Jerusalem – and both sides are happy to keep going." So the first collaboration between the Hadassah Academic College and Mainz University is now on a firm basis. "Yes, we will certainly be carrying on."