The ORG358 course within Butler University’s College of Communication (CCOM) is dedicated to broadening students’ awareness of food and agricultural injustice, both on a global scale and locally in Indianapolis. Focused on communication and social responsibility, students create culture-centered solutions for improving food access for underserved communities through collaboration with local non-profit organizations.

“The students are the ones out there doing the work, but a passion of mine for a long time has been to think about food justice and how we can help solve some of these problems,” says Dr. Lindsay Ems, the Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies who teaches ORG358. “I’m happy that I get to use my job and my platform as a professor to make an impact.”

As a course that satisfies Butler’s Indianapolis Community Requirement, ORG358 has always been dedicated to connecting with the Indianapolis community. But the content hasn’t always been about food. That focus began to emerge in 2018, when Julia Angstmann, director of the Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability (CUES) at Butler, reached out to Ems as part of an initiative to connect the CUES with social science and humanities classes. Ems had partnered with the CUES for projects with students in the past, and she was excited about the opportunity to help students serve the Indianapolis community while learning more about Butler’s on-campus farm and other CUES resources.

Now, the course is focused solely on food security and food justice in Indianapolis. Ems divides students into teams, and each group partners with a local nonprofit, such as Flanner House, Growing Places Indy, the Indy Food Council, Indy Urban Acres, or Soul Food Project Indy. The students then serve as consultants for these organizations, helping with any communication-based challenge they are facing. One group utilized social media to create TikToks and other content for Growing Place Indy, promoting their new night market, which highlights African American culture and creates an entertaining social atmosphere. Another group made a food matching game for kids to play at Flanner House as a way to learn about healthy fruits and vegetables.

Students give their final presentations on the last day of class, showcasing the work they’ve completed over the course of the semester. Ems says the community partners are always blown away by the amazing work each group has accomplished.

Students in the class enjoy getting hands-on experience and putting what they have learned into practice, actively improving lives in the world around them. And Ems never has difficulty finding community partners to participate, as the organizations know they will be working with dedicated and talented students.

“We are so grateful that our students have the opportunity to partner with these leaders in the community,” Ems says. “The work these groups are accomplishing in Indy is truly admirable, and through collaborating with them in support of their goals, our students are learning to understand and combat the food insecurity that many communities face.”