Photo by: Bailey Carr
Emerson’s Engagement Lab launches Transforming Narratives for Environmental Justice initiative, pioneering positive stories for climate action
Photo by: Bailey Carr

Emerson’s Engagement Lab launches Transforming Narratives for Environmental Justice initiative, pioneering positive stories for climate action


“We’re always talking gloom and doom about the environment. And people are more and more recognizing that it’s not motivating. It’s actually causing people to lose hope.”

This sentiment, voiced by professor Jon Honea, is the foundation of the Engagement Lab’s newly launched initiative: Transforming Narratives for Environmental Justice (TNEJ). 

Through TNEJ, the Engagement Lab is working to collaboratively redefine this narrative and replace it with positive, action-based stories that will encourage solutions surrounding environmental justice—starting on our own campus, and in our own city. 

Following the same structure as Transforming Narratives on Gun Violence, the initiative has officially launched with the mission of positively impacting the outlook on environmental justice. 

“After lots of conversations, we decided to launch this initiative and give students and faculty and local organizations the opportunity to look at the issues related to environmental justice through a lens of narrative change and storytelling, which is one of Emerson’s great strengths,” Rachele Gardner, Associate Director of the Engagement Lab, said. 

Through TNEJ, the Engagement Lab is working to harness Emerson’s passion for social justice into real, tangible change. 

“Emerson has some really great assets to offer to the pursuit of environmental justice,” Gardner said. “And storytelling is at the core of that. We are equipping students to be good storytellers, and to work collaboratively with communities who are impacted by those stories to tell those stories themselves.”  

This semester, TNEJ is offering two social impact studios: Creative Expression for Climate Justice and Future Imaginaries: Unwritten Stories of Climate Change and Sustainability. 

“[The studios] have become this opportunity where we can engage with topics that are more challenging or require different type[s] of resources or structure,” said Homa Sarabi, co-professor of the Future Imaginaries course. 

Unlike most college courses, these studios are designed in collaboration with local organizations who help to lead and participate in curriculum. For the Engagement Lab, partners are a necessary component of fostering accurate and inclusive conversations on their initiatives. 

“There are so many local organizations who have been working toward environmental justice for decades in the city, and we definitely aren’t coming into these communities and saying that we have the answer,” Gardner said. “We hope that we can add capacity to the organizations into the efforts as a whole.” 

This semester, TNEJ studio partners include GreenRoots, Speak for the Trees, and the Fairmount Indigo CDC Collaborative. Members from each organization participate in the courses both in and outside of the classroom. 

“It’s definitely the most unique experience you will get at Emerson,” said sophomore IDS major and Creative Expression for Climate Justice student Bailey Carr. “It is unlike any other classroom experience I have had. You get to speak with people who are in the city of Boston and are working on their own community efforts, we get to invite them into the classroom. We’re able to help their organizations grow and they’re able to help us.” 

In each studio course, an integral part of the learning process has been authentically engaging with the partnering organization. 

In Carr’s course, a trip to Dorchester with Speak for the Trees provided valuable insights into 

 tree equity in the Boston community. In the Future Imaginaries course, students participated in a partner-led  bike ride to see firsthand the strides Green Roots has made in Chelsea. 

As the semester advances, students in each studio will continue to collaborate with partners and determine what they feel is the best way to tell the story of what they’ve learned. 

“The beauty of the social impact design initiatives is that they bring together so many different people from different majors, different creative storytelling disciplines, and we all get to collaborate on creating something that will go out into the community and foster social change,” Carr said. 

Another unique aspect of the studios is that deliverables are not predetermined—an intentional component of TNEJ’s mission.  

“A big reason why environmental injustice happens is because people are not participating in the decisions that are impacting their communities,” Honea said. “We really want to translate that more broadly to make sure that the students are the ones making the decision on what they create in this class, and especially having the Chelsea students play a central role in identifying and developing the story.” 

As for the future of TNEJ, the Engagement Lab is eager to expand their efforts and continue connecting with not only students, but also the surrounding Boston community. 

“We believe really strongly in centering those who are most directly impacted by these issues,” Gardner said. “And so hopefully, through our efforts, we can just contribute to telling the right stories, so that the right solutions are brought to bear.” 

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Sophia Pargas
Sophia Pargas, Editor-in-Chief
Sophia Pargas (she/her) is a senior Journalism and Marketing Communications double major from Miami, Florida. She has served on the Beacon since her sophomore year, using it as an opportunity to grow professionally and cover the things that matter to her—personal narratives, culture, ethics, arts, and much more. Outside of the paper, Sophia is a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi, an Engagement Lab student fellow, and has held several journalism and marketing internships at NBCUniversal, NBC South Florida, NBC Boston, and WCVB. To learn more about Sophia, her passions, and her experience, visit her personal portfolio "The SCP Journal." 

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