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The Spring Semester Studios have reached the half-way point, with the students gaining more insight from community partners and other guest speakers, getting hands-on experience, and taking field trips into various communities.
The students of the Journalism studio are working with partners from Massachusetts General Hospital’s Gun Violence Prevention Center and community members from The Boston Project Ministries. Student Sophia Pargas says that before starting the class, she had imagined that the students would be on one side of the room, and partners on the other, “a sort of metaphor for the knowledge and wisdom they have that we do not.” However, this expectation was quickly subverted:
“[The community partners] are learning alongside us, contributing to our conversations, asking their own questions, some of which no one has the answers for… They come to class everyday willing to share their stories, to offer a piece of their lives, to teach our group of students as well as learn from us as they go.”
In addition to learning from the stories of survivors and the community partners, the students have gained valuable knowledge in examining journalism with a closer lens. They have been exposed to new concepts such as solutions journalism - which is rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social issues - and trauma informed reporting - which involves understanding trauma and what the trauma survivor is experiencing, and understanding how one’s actions as a journalist will impact them afterwards.
“Though it’s barely halfway over, I truly feel that I am entering this industry more equipped to cover the issue of gun violence, but also to be a more ethical, more informed, and more human journalist regardless of what story I am covering”.
This class has been described as life-changing, eye-opening, powerful and very emotional. Partners from Boston Uncornered join the class each week to collaborate with Emerson students on a short film inspired by the organization’s transformative work redirecting young people from violence toward positive change. The documentary This Ain’t Normal was shown in class and a conversation with the director, Rudy Hypolite, following after. The documentary gave the students a clearer understanding of the history of gun violence in Boston, and the conversation with Hypolite taught the students the importance of getting to know the people in the partner communities before putting them in front of the camera.
Student Eliana Rosenthal shares the importance of documentary filmmaking and how working with Boston Uncornered has made an impact on her personally:
“Being able to showcase a story that people should know about ignites a massive, raging fire inside of me. Boston Uncornered completely changes the course of the lives of the people they work with. The more people can understand that work, see the impact of mentorship, and just generally understand the power of having a positive role model to look up to, the more people will see that the way that our media-informed assumptions about gun violence need to change.”
Part of what makes all Social Impact Studios unique is the opportunity they afford Emerson students to apply their learnings outside of the classroom. This semester’s theatre studio – taught by Dana Edell – is a great example, with multiple community-centered projects underway which are utilizing the students’ theatrical skill sets toward direct action protests and community-building, all in service of transforming narratives of gun violence here in Boston.
As part of the engagement and learning process with community partners, the students have also been working with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute (LDBPI) on a community project called “Peace Poles.” Working directly with members of LDBPI’s Survivors Network, students will support the transformation of seven poles, located along the route of the organization’s Mothers Day Walk for Peace fundraiser in Dorchester, by facilitating creative workshops starting in mid-April. The decoration of each pole will be inspired by one of the seven Principles of Peace, which guide LDBPI’s work : Love, Unity, Faith, Hope, Courage, Justice, and Forgiveness.
The theatre students took part in the March For Our Lives rally on Saturday March 25 on the Boston Common, a protest calling for stricter gun laws in the U.S., where the students performed a co-created poetry and movement piece and led an interactive demonstration with other protest participants. According to the March for Our Lives website, the protest was part of a “youth-led movement dedicated to promoting civic engagement, education, and direct action by youth to eliminate the epidemic of gun violence.”
In line with the studio name, the students began the class discovering the importance of understanding themselves and each other as co-creators. This was achieved through vulnerable sharing of their experiences with each other, including their challenges and how they grew from them. As an initial exercise, the students brainstormed an “asset map,” which was made up of the various strengths and passions that they collectively brought with them into the course. One of the students, Isabella Ercolano, believes that these can be used as tools to make an impact in their work.
“I hope to take all these assets with me as we continue our co-design work in this course, and to understand our community around us and the steps that are being taken to diminish violence and injustice.”
As part of the learning process, guest speakers are brought in to provide insight into each topic. “Our guest speakers brought their first person narratives, filled with emotion and urged the demand for change,” says Ercolano. “All of the guest speakers leave us with questions to think about, media to become inspired by, and stories to hold close as we strive to make a change. We as a class are motivated to use these discussions as a powerful tool into the rest of the work we do and projects we create.”
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