Emerson’s Engagement Lab Launches New Three-Year Initiative “Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence” in Partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital Armed Violence Prevention Center and the Louis D. Brown Institute for Peace, starting this spring.
The initiative holds its office launch event Thursday from 2 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Zoom, which will feature speakers like Congressman Ayanna Pressley, Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, Interim President Bill Gilligan and Louis D. Brown Peace Institute President Clementina Chery.
The initiative aims to ensure that future generations of media will tell the stories of those affected by gun violence in a truthful and respectful manner. It will aim to educate students on how their storytelling styles can impact the narrative of gun violence as a whole.
Thursday’s event will showcase the initiative and the topic it will seek to teach over the next three years.
The initiative will offer revealing and hands-on lessons in a variety of topics such as visual media arts, theater, and possibly more, to teach students about the true impacts of gun violence and the ways they can work in their future careers. .
The first two courses offered under the initiative are “Partner Studio: Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence in Boston” and “Contemporary Theater Topics: Adaptations: Successful Solutions: A Dramatic Approach to Gun Violence Prevention. ”
“As a media institution with strength in media and storytelling, [Emerson] is really well positioned to have a positive and demonstrable impact on the issue of gun violence, ”said Eric Gordon, Executive Director of Engagement Lab and professor in the initiative.
More often than not, gun violence is treated as a means of attracting attention rather than a fatal flaw in our country that claims the lives of thousands of people, which will be highlighted in the courts, the scholars said. people involved in the initiative. In today’s climate where mass shootings like Tuesday’s Oxford High School shootings in Michigan seem to be happening on a daily basis and have become normalized, it is crucial to take a step back and truly examine how gun violence is viewed. in the media, they said.
“There is a mantra in the news world called ‘if it bleeds, it leads'” noted Theodore Life, Distinguished Principal Director-in-Residence and another faculty member within the initiative. “What ends up happening with reporting gun violence is that we just focus on the horrible part of it. The issues surrounding gun violence are much more personal. ”
Life said the coverage was harmful not only to the public, but also to individual lives facing these tragedies long after the cameras were turned off.
“When the news gets to the next random ambulance, the people who were involved in the story that we have all heard about for shock value are left behind,” Life said. “The story that needs to be told is what happens to people’s lives because of it. ”
Gordon echoed Life’s sentiment, revealing that the important narrative comes with those victims of gun violence leave behind.
“The stories should relate to why people pick up guns, what it really takes to heal after the gun has exploded,” Gordon said. “The story often ends with the body lying on the ground, but no one talks about what happens then. There are these ripple effects in people’s lives that go way beyond the individual victim. It’s a story that just can’t be told.
The goal of this initiative is to teach future generations of storytellers how to approach the problem of gun violence in a way that not only honors those affected today, but prevents others from being affected tomorrow. As a university dedicated to communications and the arts, Gordon said there was no better place than Emerson to tackle this problem.
“Gun violence is rampant in Boston as it is in all other American cities,” he said. “As an institution with a strength in media and storytelling, we are truly well positioned to have positive and demonstrable impacts on the issue of gun violence. The idea that we can focus our superpowers and strategically align them with other institutions and organizations working for change is really exciting to me.
While there are high hopes for the possibilities of this initiative, there is also a lack of personal experience and connection within it. To address this, the initiative centers on amplifying the voices of those who have first hand experience of the tragedy of gun violence when working with Emerson students.
“The way we approach this is through a co-design message, which means our students at Emerson who may not have first-hand experience of gun violence in their lives or families will be working with people who have it, ”Gordon said. “Within each of our studios, we will partner with people who are family members of the deceased and work with them to tell stories.”
“It’s not us who tell stories as students and faculty at Emerson, but it’s actually us who use our creative goals and talents to collaborate with people who are true subject matter experts, ”he continued. .
Gordon and Life work together to teach the Visual Media Arts course and are eager to create material as we go according to the needs of those involved. They said they are excited to learn from those closest to the issue of gun violence and to respond to their needs with creativity and compassion as the course develops.
“We’re going to be making videos of one kind or another,” Gordon said. “We’re not really dictating whether it’s fiction, documentary, or non-fiction. We’re gonna make these stories, but we wanna work with [our collaborators] to understand where these stories go and what kind of work these stories need to do. Should they be used as advocacy? Should they be used as storytelling tools within the community? What is the real power of these stories? We will find out in this course.
Although the courses offered this coming semester are limited to the Theater and VMA departments, the initiative seeks to expand into other fields of study in the near future. Life has encouraged students to be on the lookout for these courses, and to learn all they can about the issues addressed in this initiative.
“The students who take this course are really the ones who create it,” Life said. “I think it’s an exciting thing to get involved. Now you have a chance to make a difference not only for the people we will be working with, but also for Emerson College and what it represents in the city of. Boston. At Emerson, we say a lot of things we’re on, but this is our chance to not just talk about it, but make it work, make a difference and let people know why Emerson is what he is. It is.