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Social Impact Design a New Minor for a Just Future

Let’s say you’re a Visual and Media Arts major – and you love it – but you’re itching to put the skills you’re learning in the classroom to use in the real world and make a difference in someone’s life.

You’re in luck, because Emerson has launched the Social Impact Design minor, which gives students a chance to channel their creative energy and collaborative spirit into communities beyond Emerson’s campus, and, as a bonus, be primed for meaningful careers after graduation.

“The media industries are changing,” said Professor Eric Gordon, Assistant Dean of the School of the Arts, and director of the Engagement Lab, through which the new minor is run.

“Emerson’s new Social Impact Design minor equips students with the tools to foster equitable and ethical collaboration, so that the next generation of content producers are prepared to enter the new media landscape, where inclusive, collaborative strategies are fundamental to the missions and business models of brands, nonprofits, and public sector organizations.”

VMA major Olivia Goldberg ’23 enrolled in Gordon’s and Senior Distinguished Director-in-Residence Regge Life’s Collaborative Documentary Studio last spring, one of the elective social impact studios within the new minor.

Life’s class partnered with the Boston-based Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention as part of the Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence (TNGV) initiative, launched in December 2021. The result was Quiet Rooms, a short doc created with, and featuring, mothers who have lost children to gun violence. The film has been screened for multiple audiences, and was featured by the Boston Globe.

“As a filmmaker committed to social justice, my greatest takeaway from this course was the opportunity to make meaningful connections that were not only beneficial to my personal growth, but to using filmmaking to uplift voices that are often overlooked,” Goldberg said.

OK, but what about me?

Are you a Writing, Literature and Publishing major? With a Social Impact Design minor, you can co-write fiction or nonfiction with people who will directly benefit from the outcomes of your stories. You can use your creative writing to envision a more just future.

Journalism majors will work to create models of engaged, solutions-oriented, grassroots journalism, and report with – not on – communities. You’ll interrogate dominant media narratives of gun violence, climate, and more, and fill the gaps of local news coverage.

Business of Creative Enterprises, Marketing Communication, and Communication Studies majors will create collaborative creative processes and work with interdisciplinary teams to produce media and communications with real social impact.  

Even you, Performing Arts majors, can write and perform trauma-informed and collaborative theatre, or help run community-based workshops that use theatre to role-play solution strategies. The stage will be your tool to educate, advocate, raise awareness, and present real narratives that debunk stereotypes.

“Survivors of gun violence are some of the strongest people that I have ever met,” said Allie Witek ’23, a Theatre and Performance major who took Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence Through Performance with Assistant Professor Dana Edell last spring. “This class connected us so strongly to members of the Greater Boston Community.”

The 16-credit minor is open to students from any major. Everyone takes SI200 Co-Design Studio, a four-credit course taught by Gordon that teaches “methods of collaborative design and co-creation,” the foundation of Social Impact Design.

For the other 12 credits, students choose any three Social Impact Studios, where they’ll work closely and collaboratively with community partners on one or more issues.

This spring, Edell will offer TNGV Through Performance again and the Collaborative Documentary Studio will be back, this time with a new, as-yet-unannounced community partner. Grassroots Journalism & Community Media is a new studio, led by Assistant Professor Gino Canella, which will partner with an as-yet-unnamed newsroom as part of TNGV. Not ready to commit to the minor but want to see what social impact design is all about? The studios are open to any Emerson student. Learn more at the Engagement Lab.

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