When people ask me what my major was in college, I am often met with confusion, scores of questions, and curiosity. Investigative Theatre for Social Change. Yes, it’s long to say. No, it’s not short and sweet, but it’s what I chose to study, academically craft, and dedicate myself to during my four years of college. No matter how many eyebrows are raised at the lack of brevity in my major’s title, I am glad I created an academic outlet for myself that was individualized, deeply personal, and self-directed. Creating my own major through Emerson College’s IDIP program prompted me to take charge during my first year in college, pave a unique path, envision a specific college and career trajectory, become more multi-faceted, and connect to my academic experience beyond what I thought possible. My college experience was more personal and meaningful to me because I self-designed my learning throughout my four years and I would do it all again.
Investigative Theatre for Social Change is a collaborative, non-fiction form of theatre that uses journalistic elements and techniques to create plays solely constructed from interviews. Although an Investigative Theatre company can decide their plays’ messaging and purpose, my major’s focus was creating theatre with the purpose of communicating a strong social, economic, racial, political, or environmental justice message. To effectively construct my major to best mirror my passions, desired educational experience, and future career aspirations, I collaborated across the different departments at Emerson and combined the disciplines of theatre, advocacy, journalism & communications, and leadership strategies.
Before entering college, I had a unadulterated desire and strong urgency to be a part of making a change – whether through a movement, organization, volunteer experience, or career. I would observe a problem in my community and feel motivated and determined to bring about change in order to address that problem and respond to the needs of others. Throughout high school I experimented with facilitating community and social change through several different platforms. I took on organizational leadership opportunities, facilitated powerful demonstrations, illustrated statistics in regards to some of our nation’s most pressing problems, but I was missing key pieces to the puzzle. Engagement. Sure, the demonstrations, advocacy, and leadership were informative and influential for some, but people were not inspired to find their call to action and make a difference themselves. The activist opportunities I was facilitating were not empowering, motivating, or engaging and I needed to find a more compelling and memorable way to do that.
I don’t know why it didn’t click sooner but finally during my freshman year of college, I realized how instrumental theatre and the arts could be in challenging people’s mindsets, uniting communities of different people, rallying around a cause or issue that mattered, and motivating others to reflect on their lives and how they can contribute to the greater good of society. Theatre had been my passion since elementary school when I acted as Mowgli from The Jungle Book in the 5th grade. Since then, I have most likely performed in twenty or so productions (both big and small).
Theatre is not only an empowering and affirmative outlet for me, but it also has the remarkable ability to speak to a large audience, address important themes and ideas, and create meaningful connections between what’s being performed and the audience. At Emerson, I had the opportunity to watch such productions and felt moved to study and immerse myself in theatre that functioned as social, political, economic, racial, and environmental justice commentary and exemplification. After seeing two Investigative Theatre productions during my freshman year in Boston, I decided to make my BA Acting degree and academic trajectory more specific. I was happy with my performing arts curriculum but it wasn’t exactly echoing and embodying the big dreams and goals I had in regards to community change and social justice. I wanted to fine-tune and redefine my acting major to fully encompass all of my passions in life in hopes of positively impacting communities and people’s hearts and minds through the vehicle of theatre.
Creating my own major in college completely reshaped my undergraduate experience. My college recognized my unique passion, supported my drive, and let me run with it. They encouraged me to construct a major that best mirrored my authentic self – no matter how long and unusual the title sounded or how uncommon it was. Even when I expressed concern about how potential employers may react to my unconventional major in future job interviews, my professors and academic advisors gave me the confidence I needed to continue pursuing my distinct passions.
Even when I couldn’t relate to other Emerson students’ majors and academic experiences, I still felt empowered by my ability to self-design my own curriculum and self-advocate for my aspirations. My college experience was uniquely my own and those four years of undergrad provided some of the most instrumental, challenging, and meaningful experiences of my life. In one semester I was diving head first into various realms of my individualized major. I could take a Social Movements in the U.S class at the same time as taking a Theatre and Community Conversations class. Every class I took I wanted to take. I was able to self-direct my learning, find my own academic niche, and shape my extra-curricular commitments and internships around my self-designed experience. My academic and extra-curricular involvement was deliberate and decided by me. Because of that, I felt strongly tied to and deeply invested in my curriculum and higher education.
Although creating your own major can be difficult, stressful, and extremely specific, if your college offers the opportunity and you’re looking to design your own academic experience, I would highly recommend it. It could turn out that your college experience will be more unique and personalized than you ever thought possible.