Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s Teach-in on Sustainability sparks creativity for an environmentally conscious future

Feixu Chen
International filmmaker Lydia Dean Pilcher, left, and Nejem Raheem, right, chair of the Department of Marketing Communication at Emerson College, talk about the intersection of Hollywood and sustainable development goals during the keynote panel of Emerson’s annual Teach-In on Sustainability on Monday, March. 4, 2024. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Correspondent)

Emerson College’s second annual Teach-In on Sustainability, the college-wide exploration of how we can contribute to a sustainable tomorrow using pillars of a liberal arts education, commenced with an event on how storytelling can be a tool for change. 

This year’s teach-in, which took place from March 4 to 6, focused primarily on jobs and careers and the ways Emerson can equip students for a future focused on sustainability. 

The initial event, “Hollywood and Sustainability: How stories shape us and our future,” was held in the Bright Family Screening Room. The Department of Marketing and Communications chair and coordinator of the teach-in, Nejem Raheem, shed light on the importance of these conversations and the difference they can make for generations to come. 

Brent Smith, dean of the School of Communications, added to this idea with a talk about time, and he compared one’s lifespan and health span. He spoke about how the quality of life is not always in direct correlation with how long that life is. Quality, he said, is a better measurement, and it begins on Earth. 

Ending on that note, President Jay Bernhardt was welcomed onto the stage and followed Smith in repeating the importance of being climate conscious. He touched on how Emersonian it is to take on such a gigantic issue. 

“Emerson College is committed to sustainability in all that we do,” Bernhardt said.

Keynote speaker, international filmmaker, climate leader, and educator Lydia Dean Pilcher continued the conversation. The two-time Emmy winner highlighted her realization of creativity and narrative being underused tools for climate change. Since her emergence in film, she’s founded Cine Mosaic, a multicultural production company based in New York City. Through her understanding of film, she said she’s come to learn the effects of the film industry on our planet. 

Pilcher joined the Producers Guild of America (PGA) committee and its call to action for the use of clean energy within the entertainment industry in 2006. Since then, she has led an intergovernmental panel discussion on climate change, and her passion for sustainability has grown. She has dedicated herself to combining her love for storytelling with her goals for combating global warming.  

“I think of my life as my work. I think of my work as my life,” said Pilcher in her speech. “As a creative person, I’m always curious.” 

With these ideas in mind, Pilcher attended Hollywood’s 2023 Climate Summit, hosted by Emerson alum “the Daniels” and team members from the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Here, she saw the rise of what she called a “climate storytelling movement.” 

She was inspired by the steps other creatives were taking to connect art to a climate solution. The body of work presented and the communities they built were making a real change. By using hope as a core value, Pilcher said minds can be decolonized into finding innovative forms of a sustainable future.  

Following the initial March 4 event, Pilcher was accompanied by her partner Dani McClain in the screening of their climate film installation, “Homing Instinct,” at the Huret and Spector Gallery. This film was based on a short story written by McClain from the anthology, “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.”

This 28-minute film opens with three different screens of a body lying on the sand of a beach and waves splashing on top of it. As different images of the environment fill the screens, so do the two main characters, Raven and Paloma. Living in a fictional world of the future where they’re told “time is up,” they must relocate and register due to the disasters of climate change. 

Raven then begins to address the audience directly with questions like, “Are you a fish or a bird, rules or progress, and when you think of the future of this country, what are you most afraid of?” The viewer is taken on a journey of finding a home and belonging through the eyes of Black women. Themes of man versus earth are presented in the film as man’s undeniable and unquestionable immersion in Earth. 

The screening was followed by a conversation between Pilcher and McClain, moderated by journalism professor Lina Giraldo. Pilcher spoke about her relationship with author McClain. With her experience being mostly in reporting and non-fiction writing, McClain recently embarked on a journey of fiction and working with multicultural organizations. 

During the pandemic, as Pilcher was beginning to see connections between COVID-19 and the environment, she was inspired after reading McClain’s short story “Homing Instinct.” McClain formed a connection with the story and was introduced to a new form of storytelling. 

“I’m a print reporter. That’s not my world,” she said. However, with Pilcher’s mentorship, they’ve created a piece that intersects the realities of climate change and the fiction of the future.  

The conversation ended with reinforcements of some ideas Pilcher shared in her prior events. This partnership and relationship are an example of how communities and allyships are made, which Pilcher said is vital for telling stories. 

Pilcher’s advice to attendees to “find your people” went hand in hand with McClain’s to “follow your instincts.” With fifteen events in the span of three days, professionals at Emerson have shown sufficient efforts in the ways Emerson is combatting the climate emergency. Change can happen through exposing diverse stories and fantastical forms of seeing a better future, they said. 

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About the Contributor
Valentina Baez, Staff Writer
Valentina Baez (she/her/hers) is a Venezuelan-American student journalist from Miami, FL. Her Journalism Major coupled with her minor in Political Science has provided her with an understanding of the intersectional news coverage she’s interested in. She is currently the beat reporter for the Emerson College Student’s Union and occasionally likes to write other stories for the news section. She is a Junior and will be graduating early in August of 2024.

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