Social Media and Social Justice: A Beautiful Thing
SJU students provide support to growing non-profit organizations
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
PHILADELPHIA (October 19, 2010) – Charged with creating classes that develop and engage ethical communicators, the faculty of the Communication Studies program at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia are pushing their students beyond the bounds of classic coursework. While many of their peers will spend hours memorizing and theorizing, those enrolled in this semester’s social media class, taught by Aimée Knight, Ph.D., assistant professor of English, will use their classroom time to help growing, socially conscious organizations.
“Classes like this, which are focused on constantly evolving technologies meant to build connections between people, create a space for students to help,” says Knight. “When the semester ends, they won’t have just learned content and taken a final – they will have had a lasting impact on the way an organization operates.”
Throughout the semester, Knight’s students will work with several civic-minded businesses and non-profit organizations on their social media strategies. Using a hands-on approach to strategic communication, they will build and maintain Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and blog pages, enhancing their beneficiary’s visibility and online presence.
Knight and her students are the driving force behind BeautifulSocial.org, the facilitating organization created by Knight as a means of connecting her classes with the “changemakers” they are aiding, as well as experts in the communications fields who volunteer to lend a hand. Part of an “angel network,” leading communicators from organizations like Vayner Media and Michigan State University’s Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center have made themselves available to guide the project.
“In a very short amount of time, Beautiful Social has gone from an idea to an active platform, and the students are making things move,” says Knight. “They’re committed to the businesses with whom they have partnered and they’re concerned with the outcomes of their social initiatives – far beyond their time with me in the classroom. They’re constantly thinking about the next step in the process.”
Working in groups, students were asked to select the organization with whom they wished to work, which has allowed them to fully engage in a cause they care about. The current class volunteers their fledgling expertise to Power Up Gambia, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit striving to provide electricity to hospitals in the Gambia through solar paneling; Avril BYOB, a French-Italian bistro in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., committed to the use of local foods; and Leah Creation, a vintage and sustainable jewelry designer.
In addition, a campus branch of TOMS Shoes is in the process of being organized, and another student plans to raise money for juvenile diabetes through the Uniform Project’s “1 Month, 1 Dress, 1 Cause” initiative, in which participants wear a single dress for 30 days, striving each morning to create a fresh look, emphasizing sustainable fashion. During that month, donations can be made to the participant’s beneficiary organization through www.theuniformproject.com.
Knight says this kind of student-to-professional collaborative learning experience offers students the opportunity to have an impact while fine-tuning skills they will need after graduation.
“Beautiful Social gives students the opportunity to learn what it is to be a social media strategist or presentation designer for organizations that need a stronger media presence,” she says. “And it gives us a way to bring that experience back for classroom discussion.”