Emerson to offer health and social change, media psychology majors starting 2023

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Photo: Tomas Gonzalez

Emerson’s Walker Building.

By Vivi Smilgius, Editor-in-Chief

Indicating an increased focus on the intersection of communications and health, Emerson will introduce two new majors starting in the fall of 2023: health and social change and media psychology.

Both programs aim to inspire new perspectives on global health and psychology-related social issues. Dean of the School of Communication Raul Reis said he is particularly excited about the new majors. 

“Media psychology is a relatively new field,” Reis said. “The approach here is looking at psychology, psychological theories, and what we know about behavior and attitudes to help us understand our relationship with media as producers and consumers.”

Reis said studying health and social change will provide a unique opportunity for students to tackle global health crises in mindful and advocacy-driven ways.

“We’re looking at exploring the complex issues that surround healthcare policy, not from the perspective of policy makers or even public health, but from a broader, more social-oriented approach,” Reis said. “We’re going to look at very large and complex problems.”

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The two majors emerged from a committee founded in September 2020 to begin brainstorming new majors, in response to perceived gaps in Emerson’s academic offerings.

“We were meeting on a regular basis, working on different courses, doing some research and seeing the gaps in those programs and [finding] how we can be better,” Reis said. “This was very much a collective effort…it was a very collaborative process.”

Robin Danzak, one of the spearheads for the development of the health and social change major, said the major-development groups included faculty from a variety of departments—leading to the creation of two majors instead of one.

“We had some challenges initially zeroing in on our focus for the major,” Danzak said. “However, once we realized that social change should be the driving force, things came together.”

Nancy Allen, who currently teaches several public health-related courses at Emerson, said she will most likely teach some of the courses offered by the health and social change major. For her, health and social change opens doors for students to address global health issues through social justice initiatives.

“Whether it’s climate change, the opioid crisis, or COVID-19, many of the crises that we’re facing are health-related,” Allen said. “This new major is looking to take students who are interested in those topics, who want to positively impact their community or the world through social change mechanisms, and train them to do that.”

The health and social change major is more than just a liberal arts take on STEM, Allen said—it’s a public health-adjacent that combines elements of public health and communication to help students “affect social change through the arts.” 

Students in the major will open doors to a variety of careers beyond STEM, including areas like climate change, mental health, substance abuse, disability, cancer, and nonprofit organizations designed to help with those issues. 

“I can absolutely envision Emerson graduates looking to shape the views that the general public holds around some of these health issues through media,” Allen said.

Assistant professor Naa Dodoo, who recently joined the committee, said the media psychology major will provide another lens for students to use when finding solutions to worldwide issues. Like health and social change, the media psychology major will have its own “Emersonian twist.”

“We’re taking what we already know and making it even better in a new context when it comes to media,” Dodoo said. “This is an opportunity for us to expand what we have to offer, especially for students who may be interested in going in this direction.”

Media psychology allows the college to test out a new market and meet a wider range of students’ academic interests, allowing them to “explore something relevant in today’s world” and investigate the ever-changing impacts of technology and media, per Dodoo.

Though the majors will not be offered until 2023, the college will be in communication with high school advisors and students to promote the new programs, Reis said. While he won’t be at Emerson to see the launch of the majors (as he is slated to depart the college in June), he said he looks forward to Emerson’s continued growth.  

“We’re really excited,” Reis said. “Those programs embody the spirit of Emerson and what we try to do at the college.”