Spring Studios Offer Community Engagement Opportunities to All Students
CoDesign Studio (SI200)
The CoDesign studio is the foundations course for the Social Impact Design minor. It serves as a course for the TNGV initiative, in addition to the Climate and Community initiative launching in fall 2023. “The point of the course is to introduce students to the methods of collaborative design and co-creation,” Professor Eric Gorden said.
Eric explained the studio is focused on “meeting students where they are with their individual sense of creativity in their creative lives,” and “understanding what it will take to effectively apply that creativity in the world along with others.” To do this, students will examine implicit and explicit power dynamics in methods of creation.
The studio consists of a myriad of small projects focused on collaborative methods and co-creation so students can understand how to apply their creative work in different hypothetical settings. This is to prepare students for other studios where they will work with different community partners.
In the other studios, “[students will] be working directly with environmental justice groups or … with former gang members or mothers of homicide victims or a range of things that are connected to our initiatives. And being in that situation, it's difficult for anyone, let alone someone who is new to this kind of work. So this course is really meant to make students get a bit more comfortable with that situation prior to getting into it,” Eric said.
Grassroots Journalism & Community Media (JR330-03/SI300)
Assistant Professor Gino Canella’s previous classes partnered with Somerville News Garden, a community initiative working to revive Somerville’s news system. In this partnership, students interacted with Somerville residents to uncover gaps in news coverage while producing stories for Somerville News Garden.
This course is now being adapted in collaboration with the TNGV initiative. Gino has yet to announce the newsroom he will be collaborating with next semester.
At the beginning of the semester, students will learn about different models of grassroots journalism, as well as media consolidation’s impact on local news. Throughout the course, students will produce multimedia stories that will be published by the news partner.
“We typically hear from a couple of different people around the country that are doing community news initiatives and just hearing from them about … how they're trying to fill those gaps in coverage and provide people with good public service information,” Gino said.
Students will also engage with aspects of solutions journalism “and how that might apply to the issue of gun violence and help improve not only coverage but also relationships between communities and newsrooms.”
“I think it'll be a really exciting opportunity for students that are interested in local journalism, but also in community organizing and nonprofit work, also in public health and health communication,” Gino said.
Collaborative Documentary Studio (VM311/SI300)
Director-in-Residence Regge Life and Professor Eric Gorden taught this class last semester in collaboration with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and Mass General Hospital. The class produced a 20-minute documentary called “Quiet Rooms,” which tells the story of the immediate and long-term effects of gun violence in Boston.
The course is now being adapted in collaboration with a new community partner that has yet to be announced.
“The approach will be the same way that we did with ‘Quiet Rooms.’ We’ll have a community partner or partners that we’ll be working with. We’ll brainstorm with them in the early weeks of class to outline the situation … Then, we will begin to, as a class, script and plan an outline for production,” Regge said.
Something that makes this studio and the other studios unique is the ability to work directly with various community partners.
“Most of the time people don't work with community partners as directly and intimately as we are,” Regge said. “We very much want the community partners to have as much skin in the game as possible.”
Regge wants to re-create the same type of community engagement that ‘Quiet Rooms’ fostered, which means bringing members of the community they will work with into the classroom.
He also encourages any Emerson student to take this course. “I just want to make it known to all Emerson students that you don’t have to be even VMA … But you do have to care about social engagement.”
Olivia Goldberg, a senior VMA major, took the course last semester. As a self-described filmmaker committed to social justice, she felt she was able to use her filmmaking skills to uplift voices that are often overlooked. By interacting with the greater Boston community, Olivia also felt this course prepared her for her career in film, describing it as “the most beneficial class in terms of my growth as a creator.”
“The course has completely altered the way I see violence. It has shifted my perception from one of scary numbers and hopeless facts to one of heart-breaking realities, raw humanity, and inspirational resistance,” Olivia said. “I learned of a passion and resilience stronger than any I could have imagined. I have had to face loss myself in recent months, and I feel extremely grateful to those who opened their hearts to me in this class. They inspire and motivate me daily.”
Partnered Studios: Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence Through Performance (TH495/TH667/SI300)
Last semester, Assistant Professor Dana Edell’s class produced a variety of performance-based intervention projects in partnership with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and Mass General Hospital. Projects produced in collaboration with these partnerships worked to highlight the impact of gun violence.
The community partner(s) for the spring semester are yet to be announced but like last semester, students will learn various theater techniques in partnership with local, community-based, anti-violence organizations to transform the dominant narratives of gun violence, as Dana wrote in her syllabus.
This spring semester studio is open to any undergraduate and graduate student at Emerson who is interested in learning about how to use theater as an activist tool for community impact. Students will write, create, and perform trauma-informed and collaborative theater. This could mean producing a play or helping to run community-based workshops to role-play solution strategies in different contexts. Ultimately, “This studio is an opportunity for students to use theater to explore the ways that dominant narratives about gun violence in the U.S. have contributed to increased harm,” Dana said.
She asked, “ … how we can use theater as an educational tool, as an advocacy tool, as a tool for raising awareness, as a tool for sharing and presenting real narratives that will debunk these stereotypes.”
Dana wants to reinforce that this studio, like the others, is a unique opportunity to work with community partners while at Emerson. Students from last semester shared with Dana “how impactful it was to recognize that we're not here in this ‘Emerson bubble’ making theater for each other but we're actually thinking about how these tools and performance can be useful in the world outside of our studio and our classroom,” Dana said.
Allie Witek, a senior BFA Theater and Performance major, took Dana’s course last semester and found it to be an impactful learning experience.
“Survivors of gun violence are some of the strongest people that I have ever met, and if anything, my voice in a world so divided on gun control laws is needed now more than ever,” she said. “This class connected us so strongly to members of the Greater Boston Area community … I hope this class continues to go in the direction of community devising and inspiration.”
After taking the class she has “a very deep understanding” of why gun control is necessary for America. She agrees with the idea discussed in class that theater, among many art forms, has the power to change the world.