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Emerson, Community Partners Showcase Narratives for Environmental Justice

Five people perform in front of a seated audience outside at the Franklin Park Zoo
Left to right: Jackson Query ’25; Landon Butler ’25; Carina Higgins ’25; Celina Burgueño, MA ’24; and Audrey Bosniak ’27 perform A Birder Mystery by Performing Arts students. Photo by Bailey Carr ’26

Emerson College students and faculty gathered at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo to celebrate the spring semester of projects and partnerships created through the Engagement Lab’s Transforming Narratives for Environmental Justice (TNEJ) initiative on April 19.  

Students and faculty have worked together and with community partners in Social Impact Studios to co-create multimedia stories imagining what environmental justice can look like in Boston. By collaborating with organizations like Speak for the Trees Boston and Zoo New England, TNEJ aims to promote environmental and climate justice through collaborative storytelling, design, and research.

One person speaks while seated next to another seated person and a man stands nearby smiling
Left to right: Christine Madden, MA ’24; TerraCorps Community Engagement Coordinator for Speak for the Trees Boston Julia Rudolph; and Marketing Chair and Professor Nejem Raheem. Photo by Bailey Carr ’26

“Around the world and even here in our own city, communities on the front lines of climate change, communities most impacted by environmental injustices, pave the way for [remediation], adaptation, and sustainability,” said Rachele Gardner, Associate Director for Engagement Lab at Emerson College. “These stories often go unheard and the efforts under-acknowledged and under-resourced, but what would happen if we listened better to the ideas, dreams, and solutions emerging from within these communities?”

Performing Arts Assistant Professor Tushar Mathew addresses the audience under a tent
Performing Arts Assistant Professor Tushar Mathew speaks to the audience. Photo by Bailey Carr ’26

“I was really excited about collaborating with the zoo, as I love animals and I wanted to get to learn more about the zoo’s environmental initiatives,” said Audrey Bosniak ‘27, who portrayed Penny in A Birder Mystery, a live performance by students in Performing Arts Assistant Professor Tushar Mathew’s Social Impact Studio, Crafting Awe: Telling Stories of Animal Protagonists.

“We did a lot of talking in the class about storytelling and animal-centered media, reflecting on different documentaries, books, and shows that impacted us as kids, so we just wanted to make something that would reach a younger audience,” Bosniak said.

In addition to A Birder Mystery, the event featured a spoken word poem delivered by Juwaria Jama ’26, and a panel discussion with students from Marketing Chair and Professor Nejem Raheem’s Behavioral Economics class.

Two people stand while one talks holding a microphone and the other holds up an image on a piece of paper
Xander Toti ’25 and Nate Martin, MA ’24. Photo by Bailey Carr ’26

Nathaniel Martin, MA ’24 stressed the importance storytelling plays in helping people from different backgrounds and communities to feel more connected to the issue of environmental injustice.

“It is important that we tell intersectional and inclusive stories to engage more people in the fight against environmental injustices,” said Martin. “The power of storytelling allows us to empathize with others’ experiences and recognize ourselves within those narratives.”

Martin recommends that those who are unaware or indifferent to environmental injustice educate themselves about the issue and recognize and appreciate incremental progress in the pursuit of environmental justice.  

“I would say to do your research, read books and articles,” said Martin. “It is about making small steps and making small wins. It is OK to be romantic and idealistic with our goals for environmental justice, because ultimately holding on to those ideas is what gets us closer to where we want to be.”

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