As a graduate student in a Higher Education in a Student Affairs Master’s program which focuses on student development as a whole, I was extremely interested in getting to know Rachel Hanebutt and the work she does. Rachel recently completed the Civic Media, Art and Practice Master’s program here at Emerson College. Prior to attending Emerson College, Rachel earned her first Master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Mind, Brain and Education and attended DePauw University for her undergraduate education where she studied Political Science and Education Studies. Rachel’s research interests involve reducing sexual assault on college campuses and increasing healthy relationships. She is also interested in how civic media and online platforms shape ethical, romantic, and sexual relationships. Rachel’s interest in civic engagement led her to become co-founder of Confi, a digital health startup focusing on the importance of sexual health education, sexual assault prevention, and promoting communication within relationships.

Rachel currently works at Global Family Research Project as a Research and Communication Analyst and is continuing her work with Confi on the side. I had the chance to speak with Rachel about her experience in the CMAP program and the work she has done.

Applying to the CMAP Program and Thesis Project Process

The Civic Media, Art and Practice (CMAP) Master’s program began during the 2016-2017 school year. Excited to be a part of something new, Rachel reached out to Eric Gordon, a faculty member in the department of Visual and Media Arts and the Executive Director of the Engagement Lab at Emerson. Rachel was interested in the work the faculty at the Engagement Lab were doing regarding civic engagement and using game design in interventions for social issues, which is showcased in many of the unique and innovative projects at the Engagement Lab. She was also interested in studying participatory action research (PAR) methods and applying new research skills to her previous academic work. The Engagement Lab’s community partner network was also an invaluable resource, as local non-profit organizations present with CMAP students in order to make connections and some students worked on their projects with these non-profit organizations.

Rachel entered the CMAP program with a strong passion for sexual assault prevention. While at Harvard, she co-founded a startup named Confi which aims to empower 18-30-year-olds to be confident in themselves, in their bodies, and in their relationships. Rachel wanted to continue the work she started with Confi through her thesis in the CMAP program. Her thesis project, “Reimagining Sexual Assault Prevention: An Iterative Process of Co-Design Towards College Student Sexual Expectation Alignment,” is a product of CMAP’s focus on human-centered design, participatory action research methods, and civic media theory.

Although Rachel had already developed content expertise prior to entering the program, her vision for her project changed various times throughout the 12-month program. Rachel had to think about what she wanted for her project and what she was willing to “throw away” from the work she had previously started. “In order to design something great, you have to embrace critique, embrace being uncomfortable, and be willing to start over,” she said. “At the end of the program, you have the opportunity to reflect on the changes your thesis project went through. Ideas grow and change throughout the process and it’s really great to step back and see how much your project grew.”

Moving Forward

Now that she has completed the program, Rachel plans to continue working with her startup Confi as well as the platform she created through her time at Emerson. The CMAP program helped her to see how a startup can use the same applied research to develop a student-centered healthy relationships program.

In the future, Rachel hopes to become a professor, mentor students, and conduct research regarding civic engagement, with a particular focus on interpersonal relationships. The research-based nature of the CMAP program ultimately provided Rachel with the opportunity to gain new experience conducting research. More specifically, while working on her project, she had three Emerson undergraduate students working with her. This presented her with the unique opportunity to teach students how to conduct research, including navigating IRB processes, writing research protocol, and analyzing qualitative data sets.

Advice For Current and Prospective Students

Being that Rachel was part of the first graduating class of the CMAP program, I wondered if she had any advice for the 2017-2018 cohort and any students looking to apply to the program in the future. The first piece of advice she offered was, “CMAP is only as strong as your cohort.” Rachel believes it is important that you build a strong relationship with your cohort members.

Rachel also advised that current and future CMAP students should “take advantage of the supportive resources Emerson has to offer.” For example, students interested in research should apply for research grants, such as the Emerson Enhancement Fund, in order to support their research expenses.

How CMAP Prepares You for Future Work

The CMAP program at Emerson exposed Rachel to various tools and techniques, fields, industries and people. Because of her experience at the Engagement Lab, she also acquired technical skills, such as data visualization and how to conduct participatory action research (PAR), which she can transfer to her work in the future.

CMAP also helped Rachel see sexual assault prevention in a different way and broadened her definition of relationships. “It’s not just about creating programming to create sexual assault,” she explained, “I’ve learned to reframe my work to focus on students’ expectations about relationships and how they understand consent, which came directly from CMAP’s focus on PAR and human centered-design.” Through the CMAP program, she also realized that relationships were inherently civic. She stated, “We are a society that is built on ethical and unethical relationships, but all relationships are inherently civic.”

Although the CMAP experience will be different for each cohort, Rachel noted the particular significance of attending the program this year. “Being a CMAP student this year was a great opportunity to see the relevance of what we were learning in and outside the classroom.” Given the current political climate and Emerson’s location, Rachel was able to witness protests such as the Boston Women’s March and several Black Lives Matter protests, right across the street in Boston Common. Witnessing these events provided her with the opportunity to see what she was learning in the classroom as it applied to different civic issues.

Meeting with Rachel provided me with a better understanding of the CMAP program at Emerson College and the “civic media” field in general. Civic engagement requires open-mindedness and a willingness to learn about the different cultures, political issues, and communities around you. It also requires passion, which I immediately saw in Rachel when we met. Although she came into the CMAP program wanting to focus on sexual assault prevention, she was willing to expand the knowledge she already had to achieve her goals.

For more information about the CMAP program and other resources, check out the following links:

Civic Media, Art and Practice (MA)

Engagement Lab at Emerson College

Career Services