Students, faculty, and community partners came together on May 2 to celebrate the projects they co-created during this semester through the Engagement Lab’s Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence (TNGV) initiative.
The projects included a short documentary film, an interactive theatre performance, and engaged journalism to support peace, healing, and justice in Boston.
“The projects were beautiful, raw, reflective, and powerful. But they are also only representations of so much more,” said Rachele Gardner, associate director of the Engagement Lab. “While each project has the potential to contribute to change by itself, it is when you look at the collective, and when you look beneath the surface to the process by which they were created, that you begin to see the transformative power of this initiative.”
This semester, 34 Emerson students and 12 community partners created content through three Social Impact Studios in theatre, journalism, and documentary filmmaking. Social Impact Studios are courses where community partners help define the outcomes, said Eric Gordon, director of the Engagement Lab, professor in the Visual and Media Arts department, and assistant dean in the School of the Arts.
Gardner said the studios seek to tell stories that go untold in order to highlight root causes, lasting impacts, and community-based solutions.
“We do that by inviting community partners into these studios as co-creators, to determine, alongside Emerson students, the stories that need to be told, by whom, how, and why,” said Gardner.
Angelica Fontes, a community organizer for the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, was able to share her lived and professional experience tied directly to the issue of gun violence and its root causes.
“I was able to share my expertise and that of the Coalition and our member organizations by providing insight regarding our communities across the Commonwealth impacted by gun violence,” said Fontes.
The Documentary Studio made a film about community partner, Uncornered, a Boston nonprofit that uses education to end systemic generational urban poverty. That included bringing General Educational Development (GED) candidates and high school candidates to Emerson, so they could experience what it’s like to be on a college campus.
“In every film that I become a part of, I ask myself, ‘What is the root here, what is the heart that we’re working with in this piece?’” said Sara Bourjjai ’24. “Over the past 14 weeks, we’ve discovered that it’s Uncornered, and it’s the people that we’ve met along the way. The work that these programs are doing, the work that these people are doing, is the core. It’s the strong center that everything flows from. It’s how this film came to be, and it’s part of the larger goal to decrease violence and empower the community for the better.”
“The guys we work with at Uncornered, we call them ‘core influence catalysts,’ guys that were driving violence in these communities,” said Will Dunn, director of strategic initiatives for Uncornered. “So we’re trying to take the guys that were violent and turn them around and have them be the answer to the narrative of gun violence.”
All photos by Bobby Wu ’24
More than 120 people attended the event, and the pride of making the projects was evident.
“But this is just the beginning for these projects, which is why we call this end-of-semester event ‘Peace in Process’,” said Gordon. “What comes out of these studios doesn’t end when the semester does. Changing the narrative means we tell stories, and then we keep telling stories, and we continue to support our partners to use the art and media we make together toward each partner organization’s community-rooted mission and impact.”
While the semester’s work is done, the work to change the narrative of gun violence continues through the Social Impact Design minor, summer faculty workshops, and working with community partners. And this semester’s experience has fostered a passion for the initiative.
“This semester has been one of the most transformative and greatest class experiences. I’m so inspired and motivated and it’s just the beginning!” said Isabella Ercolano ’25.