Spring 2023 to run new Social Impact Design minor

Documentary+Studio+class+alongside+members+of+Peace+Institute+at+the+premier+of+%E2%80%9CQuiet+Rooms%E2%80%9D

Photo: Olivia Goldberg

Documentary Studio class alongside members of Peace Institute at the premier of “Quiet Rooms”

By Ryan Forgosh, Staff Writer

This spring, Emerson will introduce a social impact design minor program to allow students to work with social justice groups outside of Emerson in addressing issues from gun violence to climate change.

In studio classes—courses designed for students to create products via collaboration—students will focus on an issue within the community. Participants will select from one of two currently available initiatives—“transforming narratives of gun violence” and “climate and community”—and collaborate on a creative project throughout the course. 

The social impact design minor will be run by professor Eric Gordon, director of Emerson’s Engagement Lab, where the program is housed.

The curriculum starts with a co-design studio focused on methods of collaborative production which will prepare students for the three other required studio courses, creating a focused path for students.

“What’s cool about this is that we’ve never had the opportunity to really build a curriculum for undergrads,” said Gordon. “This is the first opportunity to do that.”

Previously, Gordon taught Emerson’s studio classes before they were a part of a specific minor  focused on social justice. Despite now being housed in a minor, there will be no prerequisites locking students out of the studio classes if they are not in the social impact design program. Although newcomers to the minor must start with co-design studio, if a student has already taken a studio course, it will still count towards their minor requirements. 

“Our plan is to offer courses within every department, so that, regardless of your skillset or passion, there is opportunity to work on these important initiatives through this minor,” Gordon said.

Last spring, Emerson offered a documentary studio course in which students collaborated with Peace Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital to create a short film “Quiet Rooms.” The film attempted to transform the narrative of gun violence in Boston.

Junior business of creative enterprises major Sabrina Carr took the course along with three other Emerson students. Carr said the experience “changed her as a person,” noting her interactions with the film’s subjects. 

“I felt very close and connected to [the subjects],” Carr said. “I know one of the mothers had a really hard time opening up, but eventually she felt comfortable enough with us to tell us her story and that made me feel so grateful and lucky.”

While those who have enrolled in studio classes deliver positive reviews, many Emerson students aren’t aware these classes exist.

“There were only four Emerson kids in the class, which was very upsetting to me,” Carr said. “It was upsetting to me that there were so few kids in the class, but I think that also has to do with the advertising of it.”

Senior visual media arts major Malena Horne is taking the games for social change studio course this semester. This course is an intersection of two things Horne is passionate about—game design and social justice—yet she only found it after accidentally stumbling  across it.

“I read a little bit about it when signing up for classes, didn’t think much of it, and then my adviser told me more about it,” Horne said. “Once I heard the actual description of it I was like, ‘This is actually pretty cool.’”

Former documentary studio student Olivia Goldberg agreed that studio classes lack promotion. She became aware of the classes at a breakfast with the Dean, where the initial narrative of gun violence studio class was pitched.  

“It’s great for people like me, but then I’m like ‘Only four people took this class,’” she said.

Students hope that now the studio classes are a part of a minor they will start getting the attention that they deserve. Gordon is also optimistic about studio classes’ prospects in light of the new minor. He is working to make these hopes reality.

“This semester we’re trying to get out to classes to let students know about it,” Gorden said. “We’re trying to do the work of letting people know that it exists at the moment.”

The social impact design is currently in Emerson’s course catalog and can be declared as a student’s minor, though classes will not begin until Spring 2023. An information session for the minor will be held on Oct. 27th at noon in the Engagement Lab at 160 Boylston St.