Emerson’s problem with professionalism

I work in the Emerson College Office of Undergraduate Admission. Every day, eager prospective students call in with questions and anxieties about what they’ll be doing when they arrive here. It is common to hear, “What does someone with a degree in sound design do after graduation?” and “A lot of people told me, if you want to make it to Hollywood, then Emerson is the place to go.”

In a school as specialized as Emerson, these questions cross the minds of  many current students as well — and for good reason. Many of the fields Emersonians enter after graduating are changing rapidly and suffering with the recession.

But as long as we’re at Emerson, our four years should not be spent anticipating where we will end up or analyzing how the present plays into that later life. We should focus our energy on experiencing the value of the current moment, instead of trying to manipulate it for  future benefit.

Emerson does not advertise itself as a conservatory, but as a liberal arts institution. Ideally, a liberal arts path should facilitate a creative mind — something that doesn’t always coincide with Emerson’s professional mindset. Students cannot enhance their critical thinking or reasoning abilities when forced to spend time mastering technical skills. The latter can easily overpower the former.

Four years ago, I entered Emerson as a film production major. I was drawn to film for its power to capture a present moment. As brief as it is, the present gives us a sense of self-awareness, a sense of direct connection to what we’re experiencing.

When fully embraced, these are the times when our words can truly mean something. This is when a camera angle, dance move, or musical note resonates deeply with a silent audience. I believed the same sort of emotional authenticity I could experience sitting in a theater or watching the final cut of a film could exist among the people creating it.

But many of the film productions I’ve been exposed to at Emerson focus on that final product, much like prospective students prematurely wonder how the education they haven’t yet started will play into their careers.

Film production can easily devolve into juggling technical logistics. Students make sure the equipment is set up perfectly, seeking constant assurance that the end product will be sellable — ­at the expense of learning something from the process itself.

But our projects don’t always turn out resumé-worthy. Thinking ahead, be it for a film production or marketing campaign, creates a controlled sense of expectation. My own education has felt anticipatory, always hearing about what will happen after, or because, of the experience I’m presently having.

Before entering this institution, I remember always hearing about Emerson College being like a “microcosm of L.A.”  And, sometimes, it feels like that. For a campus of 3,400 undergraduates, comprised of buildings that are a two-minute walk from each other that house a plethora of resources, this small Boston campus can feel as distant and shallow as the sprawling highways of Los Angeles.

In the midst of this school’s constant collaborations lies a barrier that pushes people apart from one another. Getting people to simply fulfill technical roles on a project is not enough. No matter the amount of equipment that stands between two human beings, an aura of skepticism and reasoning should exist. Ideas and justifications should form a decision, not reliance on technical proficiency.

Discussions need to revolve around the work you’re doing, not what the outside world expects of it. Instead of hearing from a professor that one’s script would never be produced in Hollywood, the writer should have the opportunity to express the idea behind his work and debate ways to help it shine through more. A classroom experience is not a weight loss regimen. Nobody should go in with a particular expectation of how they’ll be when they walk out.

In middle school, we hear about what teachers aren’t going to put up with once high school comes around. High school comes, and we hear about what needs to get done in order to get an A in college. In college, we’re constantly told about the real world.

Getting an internship becomes a choice between a good reference stamped on our resumé and an opportunity to really get your hand dirty in a real-world environment. Seeing a big-name production company or knowing your supervisor is well-known in the industry completely blurs what’s of genuine importance to an individual’s experience. These factors say nothing about the work environment, the ways people collaborate, or how they think critically about the work they’re producing.