Alum Uses Arts Degree to Effect Change

Photo of Sarah Cadorette

By Sarah Cadorette

Communication arts are self-indulgent. They have no productive value, and our money would be better spent going into education on computer science and engineering.

I have heard these arguments before: when my high school almost lost funding for all of its journalism courses, when my family asked why I was going for an undergraduate degree—and now a master’s degree—in creative writing. They are arguments I struggled with as I thought about graduating and getting a job where I could make a tangible difference in my community.

One day, while an undergraduate at Emerson who wanted to pursue an arts degree but also considered dropping out to become a community organizer, I attended a lecture suggested to me by a professor whom I wanted to impress. I would go as a gesture of good will, I figured. The lecturer had just published a book about the food system, something I knew and cared little about. His stories from farmers, activists, displaced peoples, and others he had interviewed about the injustices of the food system filled the Bill Bordy Theatre—tales of corrupt governments and corporate coercion, indigenous people forced onto reservations, stories of individuals facing a worldwide catastrophe. Within the hour, my thoughts had crystallized: not only was food justice something I needed to pursue, but storytelling was the medium that would help me do so.

I designed an Individually Designed Interdisciplinary Program, Travel Writing and Social Advocacy, that would allow me to pursue my love of creative nonfiction writing within a context of cultural investigation and exchange, social justice movements and mobilization, and communicative advocacy. The service learning courses I was able to take exposed me to local efforts to address wide-reaching issues—racism, classism, sexism—and the idea that even as a college transplant in a new city, I could participate in this community for the time I was here.

I, in fact, never left. The work I began doing around food justice organizing while an undergraduate at Emerson led me to organizations around Boston doing such innovative, powerful, engaging work that I couldn’t seem to pull myself away. And in all of the places I have worked—whether as a food justice advocate with the Dorchester Community Coop, and later with Food Day, or as Director of the Democracy Center, a radical community center, or as a teacher and Program Manager at Gilbert Albert Community Center, an immigrant resource center—my ability to create compelling narratives has been integral to my work. I saw the intersectionality of these issues as elements of a story that just needed a structure, of partnerships that could be built.

So I return now to Emerson as an MFA student, aware of the fact that people relate to the narratives of other people. The stories we tell and are exposed to shape our perception of the world, which in turn shapes what we care about, our politics, our language, where we place our priorities and why. With this in mind, I am thrilled to be working with the Service Learning and Community Action Office and doing creative work around issues of cultural translations, gender and sexuality, and systems of oppression.

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