About Us

Who We Are

The Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), based at American University's School of Communication, is a creative innovation lab and research center that creates, studies, and showcases media for equity, social change, and social justice. Focusing on independent, documentary, and entertainment media, the Center bridges boundaries between scholars, producers and communication practitioners across media industries, social justice, public policy, and public engagement. The Center produces resources for the field and academic research; creates original media; convenes conferences and events; and works collaboratively to understand and design media that matter.

What We Believe: A Transformative Era of Media & Social Influence

The evolution of the Internet Age has transformed virtually every aspect of contemporary life. The digital era has revolutionized the meaning of civic engagement, reconfigured how we learn, shifted power dynamics of social change, changed the role of information gatekeepers, and fundamentally altered the pathways of social norms that connect cultures and communities. Although the radical disruption of formal and informal systems has rippled across virtually every industry, media and communication reside together at the epicenter of dramatic societal transformation.

What is unchanged is the powerful influence of mediated information and entertainment on what we know and believe, what we value and disdain. And yet, what has changed may be the extent to which we understand how deeply and precisely contemporary media and storytelling shape our personal opinions and perspectives, our cultural values, and the formal policies and rules that govern some of the most pressing social issues of our day. Work and play, amusement and information, news and entertainment have converged across platforms into an unprecedented supply of facts, values, stories and opinions that comprise contemporary life.

Simultaneously, demographic and socioeconomic chasms grow wider. Paradoxically, we live in a time characterized by increased racial diversity, but decreased socioeconomic diversity amidst worrisome polar extremes. Social justice – the pursuit to enable all people to live meaningful, productive, healthy lives – is shaped by policy and public opinion, in turn cultivated by stories and information shared via entertainment and journalism – and increasingly, across games, interactive and virtual reality storytelling, social media, and documentary storytelling. Audiences consume contemporary media and storytelling in converged spaces, on laptops and mobile devices and wearable media. They experience a diverse ecology of influence, and meaning comes from a range of sources over time. In the same fashion, the study and development of contemporary storytelling and media influence should be revolutionized in parallel lines – explicitly moving across boundaries of medium and discipline to understand more precisely how individuals and social issues are shaped and impacted.

To positively shape and chronicle the transformation, the Center for Media & Social Impact works intentionally within – and at the intersections between – media, storytelling and social challenges.

CMSI is grateful to all past and present funders, without whose support, none of our work would be possible. Thank you:

Additional funding for CMSI has come from The Annie E. Casey Foundation; Atlantic Philanthropies; Cinereach; D.C. Humanities Council; Fledgling Fund; Gates Foundation; Independent Television Service (ITVS); Link Media; McNulty Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Odyssey Networks; Participant Media; Pop Culture Collaborative; Univision & Fusion Networks; Surdna Foundation; The Rockefeller Foundation; Wyncote Foundation; and Working Films.