Social Justice Projects

There are places in the world that will cause you to change merely by being exposed to them; San Francisco was such a place for me. When I taught design at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) from 2001–2008, many opportunities existed for engaging in social responsibility projects.

Below listed are a few examples of social justice engagements where we applied the design process to elicit transformational experiences in participants and audience. In this work, I drew from my installation and performance art experience to curate the events, and my intercultural communication training was put to practice in a big way. The students were extremely engaged; their passion for people and the content of this work drove them to extraordinary performance levels. My colleague, Amy Conger, with whom I co-taught professional practice at CCSF for many years, was a constant collaborator in this thread. Thank you, Amy, for lending your genius to our work!


CJ8 project was focused on working with female inmates in San Francisco Jail (CJ8). We helped inmates write poetry, represent their poems visually, and perform their poetry creatively. The semester-long project accumulated in book design, an installation of the work exhibited in a public library, and a public art performance with audience participation. Our lives were changed forever by working inside the jail with inmates directly, and by honoring and bringing their feelings, thoughts, and concerns to the public sphere.


Mission High Design Week

Mission High Design Week was a summer project working with at-risk youth after they experienced several gang violence events and shootings at their High School located in a critical city neighborhood. The work included a week-long workshop dialoguing about the root causes of gang violence. A special feature of this project was the extensive use of Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed techniques to work through the issues and co-create alternative ways of dealing with conflict and cultural differences. The project required high sensitivity on multiple levels. CCSF design students served as group facilitators and mentors under faculty supervision. The group work lead to the development and actual printing of public posters in CCFS' printing facilities, and a public performance.

Inside Out — Transgender Voices, Transgender Rights

The Inside Out project dealt with the San Francisco transgender population. Students engaged in semester-long efforts to elicit, understand, and represent the interior complexities of transgender individuals so that we could help bring their concerns to the public in an honorable way that would engage and possibly shift minds and hearts. The project included the design and facilitation of multi-sensory experiences in order to heighten awareness and bring beliefs and values to the surface. The project culminated in the design and printing of a book of personal narratives and a public performance with audience participation.

Bioneers Service Learning

Design students take to graphic recording naturally. This genre was fairly new in the early 2000s. Part of my contributions to CCSF was the development of peer mentoring and service learning systems in the design department and to bring new forms of design applications to the students. For several years, one of our service learning projects involved collaborating with the organizers of the Bioneers conference to support the Youth Tent with graphic recording services. CCSF students took turns at the week-long conference serving workshop leaders by representing the events in visual language, in real time, on graphic panels. Several students developed this new skill further and created visual facilitation businesses thereafter, for instance, Julie Gieseke who blossomed into a excellent visual facilitator and established a thriving boutique consultancy.