S. Theater of Change: Reimagining Justice through Abolition

Course Information

Course Number
Curriculum Level

Section 001 Information


Susan Sturm Susan P. Sturm George M. Jaffin Professor of Law and Social Responsibility

Section Description

This January term course and practicum, the first of its kind, will enable participants to blend artistry, law, policy, and community engagement, and in this way to produce narratives with powerful impact in policy spaces where change can happen. The course will equip law students to tell powerful stories--themselves and in collaboration with artists and community members--and use legal knowledge and skills to amplify artists’ and community activists’ impact in venues where laws are made and power is exercised. The workshop will also build artists’ capacity to merge high quality, high impact, rigorous artistry with community narratives and research & high level policy activists. In the process all the participants will work with community members to amplify the power of their stories through artistry informed by legal and policy research. With criminal justice and education as the policy focal point, the workshop will enable participants to craft and enact compelling stories about justice and injustice in “theaters for change” where they can shift hearts and minds of thought leaders and policy makers.

The course grows out of a collaboration between the Broadway Advocacy Coalition (BAC) and Columbia Law School. BAC is an arts based organization dedicated to bridging the worlds of arts, justice and education for the purpose of building new collaborative methods for solving today’s most pressing social justice issues.

The course and practicum will be offered to a strategically selected group of law students, professional artists, and directly affected activists on the front lines of change work in the areas of education and criminal justice. It will create a space in which its participants can cross-train; to learn from each others’ toolkits and build collaborative capacity. At its core, it will focus on employing the arts as a tool for fostering empathy, communicating effectively and vividly, engaging communities in change work, valuing the place of emotion in this work, and ultimately restoring a just and equitable society. This course will also develop strategic capacity to connect artistry with policy, locate this work where it can make a concrete difference, and implement practices designed to make this change substantive and sustainable, rather than transitory. Participants will emerge from the course with the ability to practice ARTIVISM: art-making linked with community mobilization, activism, and substantive change around issues of equity and justice.

The course will enable participants to link the theory and practice of artivism by: (1) building the capacity to communicate effectively through high-impact storytelling, (2) creating original pieces of work, informed by policy research and narratives gathered using the methodologies of both theater and law, (3) developing and applying theories of change that will integrate storytelling and performance with policy research and a survey of the political and bureaucratic landscape, with an eye towards how best to employ performance to achieve maximum impact towards achieving educational equity and transforming our justice system, and (4) arranging a new “theater for change” located in a policy venue, designed to maximize the broader impact of the performance.

The course consists of a week-long intensive January Term seminar (10-5), with the option for interested participants to continue the inquiry through a 1 credit weekly evening seminar, culminating in a public performance.

Students must apply for enrollment to this course by November 10. Registration by instructor permission only.
January 2023 application form: https://forms.gle/ocPG5GtCnxkJN2gM7

School Year & Semester
January 2023
JGA Greene Annex Lounge
Class meets on
  • Monday
  • Tuesday
  • Wednesday
  • Thursday
  • Friday
10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Method of Evaluation
J.D Writing Credit?

Course Limitations

Instructor Pre-requisites
Instructor Co-Requisites
Recommended Courses
Other Limitations
Students must apply for enrollment to this course by November 10. Registration by instructor permission only. January 2023 application form: https://forms.gle/ocPG5GtCnxkJN2gM7