Kent State Film Airs on British Television

Documentary focuses on Akron's Highland Square neighborhood

A film made by Kent State University students and professors about the diverse Akron neighborhood, Highland Square, has had its international debut.

The documentary, “Highland Lives” aired this week on the UK television program, “Tales From the Margins,” an LGBTQ program broadcast on the Latest TV network, based in Brighton.

The film was made in 2013 as part of the class, Special Topics: LGBTQ Methods, said Molly Merryman, Ph.D., director of Kent State’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and an associate professor of sociology.

Merryman said the class was a collaborative teaching effort between herself, Cara Gilgenbach, MLA, associate professor and head of Special Collections and Archives; David Purcell, former associate professor of sociology; and Lauren Vachon, MFA, assistant professor of LGBTQ Studies.

For the class, the professors wanted to conduct a neighborhoods study, and selected Highland Square because of its proximity to Kent and because of its large LGBTQ community. The 2014 Gay Games were going to take place in Cleveland and, Merryman explained, the group thought that the film could showcase the diversity of the neighborhood before a visiting international audience.

Students, working in pairs, interviewed people living in the neighborhood. Among those interviewed for the film was Ken Ditlveson, M.Ed., LPCC-S, who since has become the first director of Kent State LGBTQ Student Center. 

Since the 2014 version, Merryman has worked to revise the film a few times, completing the most recent version last year. In March 2017, Rainer Schulze, host of “Tales From the Margins,” heard Merryman speak at an LGBTQ history initiative in England where she mentioned the film.

Merryman said Schulze approached her after her presentation and asked if he could air the documentary on his show. Merryman returned in England in December to be interviewed by Schulze for a commentary portion of the program, which takes place at the end of the film.

While Merryman doesn’t teach film, she often uses film making as a research method and has made seven documentaries. “I found that working in documentary is a really useful way to focus on marginalized people,” she said.

“Highland Lives,” Merryman said, is a simple and straightforward film. “Thematically what comes across in the story is how integrated LGBTQ people are in the Akron community,” she said.

Unlike other cities were a gay community can breed controversy or discrimination, the film illustrates how, in Highland Square, “there has been a casual acceptance and integration of LGBTQ people in Akron,” she said.

“The neighborhood is a very good balance of gay and straight not having difficulties of living together,” Merryman said.

The film also looks at the history of Highland Square as part of the larger history of Akron, the former rubber capital of the world.

“Tales from the Margins” aired Jan. 8 in England and will air again Jan. 12. Visit to watch the program online.

Visit to watch “Highland Lives.”

To learn more about Kent State’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality or Kent State’s LGBTQ Student Center, visit or


POSTED: Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - 3:01pm
UPDATED: Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 11:46am
Lisa Abraham