Alina Alvarez

Alina Alvarez

Researching Digital Interfaces to Raise Awareness about the Impacts of Gun Violence


Alina Alvarez, Laura Gonzales


Assistant Professor, Laura Gonzales


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


The rise of mass shootings in the U.S. creates community trauma based upon individual experiences of survivors, their families, and the community’s understanding that something essential about our society’s humanity has changed. These events raise essential questions about how we understand what people are capable of, what levels of threat inform our everyday lives, how we feel when we walk into public community spaces, and how we create humane systems of support. We know that these questions resonate with survivors in ways that call for responses that require both deep listening and opportunities for healing. Including opportunities for survivors to express what they hope will emerge as a result of their anguish is one way to ensure that public representations of their experiences include space for them to participate in the creation of these representations. In this sense, remembering is less an act of memorializing and more of an opportunity for processing, healing, and coalition-building. Digital interfaces, when developed through ethical, respectful frameworks, can open up these opportunities for memorializing in inclusive, community-focused ways, particularly during a pandemic. In this experience report, we document a landscape analysis conducted as part of a larger project to develop and test digital tools for raising awareness about the impacts of gun violence on communities. Specifically, our research team is working to design a digital archive of digital photographs, sound testimonials, and written stories collected by photographer Ian Witlen to document the tragic shooting that took the lives of 17 people in Parkland, Florida in 2018. As a response to this tragic event, Ian created a physical art installation, Anguish in the Aftermath, that has served as a processing and healing space for survivors of this tragedy, while also making broader arguments about the vast impact of gun violence on the world as a whole. Stemming from this initial exhibit, our research team is working to develop an online archive of survivor testimonials. It’s clear that making this archive open-access may leave too much room for negative appropriation. Therefore, we are working to prototype and test a closed archive that would be available online only to people with specific connections to the tragedy who can use this interaction to build community and heal. In this experience report, we document the first step in this archive design process: conducting a landscape analysis (Potts and Gonzales, 2020) of existing online memorials designed after mass shootings. We analyzed a dozen online archives to trace best strategies for developing content that: 1) includes the experiences of multiple communities and races; 2) takes into account issues of accessibility and content sensitivity; 3) integrates safeguards to protect the information included privately in the archive while also providing some public-facing material to raise awareness. Our experience report will provide design recommendations that can be applicable in other projects seeking to document tragedies as a form of community and coalition building. 


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Research Pitch

View a 3-minute research pitch below.

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