Branching Out: Speak for the Trees Partners with Emerson College

Along with residents and other NGO partners, we worked to “Transform Narratives for Environmental Justice”

Speak for the Trees joined forces with Emerson College’s Engagement Lab for the 2023-2024 academic year, enriching two courses: “Creative Expression for Climate Justice” and “Behavioral Economics.” Julia Rudolph, our community engagement coordinator, became a “Learning Partner,” actively participating in weekly classes.

These courses were part of Emerson’s “Transforming Narratives for Environmental Justice” initiative, which seeks to advance environmental and climate justice through collaborative storytelling, design, and research.

Fall Semester: Art for a Just Climate

The fall semester’s “Creative Expression for Climate Justice” explored artistic approaches to achieving climate justice. Students embarked on a tree walk with Speak for the Trees in Dorchester, visited the Fairmount Indigo CDC to learn about their work with the Boston commuter rail line, and journeyed to Sherrin Woods in Hyde Park. Inspired, students created poems, zines, children’s books, social media content, and even a short film! The film, titled “A Tree’s Story” tells a touching story about a tree’s connection with the people who visit it.

Spring Semester: Nudging for Change

The spring semester’s “Behavioral Economics” course delved into decision-making and why people often resist behavior changes. Students learned about “nudges” – subtle interventions that influence behavior – and applied them to Dr. Loesch Family Park in Dorchester.

Working with Todd Mistor (Boston’s Director of Urban Forestry) and Cynthia Loesch-Johnson (championing the park’s development), students discovered two primary threats to the park’s trees: dog urination and children climbing on the trees.

In 2021, Speak for the Trees planted 12 trees at Dr. Loesch Family Park as part of the Black Forest Project, honoring Black lives lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. These trees have QR code tags that link to audio recordings about these community members.

Inspired by the park’s purpose, students designed creative “nudges” to encourage park users to respect the trees. Their ideas included designated “pup pee zones” and collaborating with local schools to create art installations around the Black Forest trees. This art would not only beautify the park but also serve as a constant reminder of the lives these trees memorialize.

This partnership between Speak for the Trees and Emerson College proved to be mutually beneficial and engaging. We look forward to continuing this collaboration and bringing these student-driven projects to life.