New communication institute promotes study of social change

Joe Cramer

Early October saw the launch of a new institute within the communication department dedicated to exploring the discipline’s role in creating social change. 

The institute, called the Waterhouse Family Institute for Study of Communication and Society, was founded through a $3 million donation by alumnus Lawrence Waterhouse Jr., Class of ’59, notable as the founder of Waterhouse Investor Services, Inc., a precursor to broker TD Ameritrade.

According to a press release, “The Waterhouse Family Institute is founded on the principle that the study and practice of communication requires attention to ethics and social justice, and that properly understood, communication is central to the creation of positive social change.” 

The WFI will emphasize three activities in support of their mission: lending more support to student-focused activities, funding research that investigates communication’s relationship with social issues and connecting scholars with professionals in the field.

For Bryan Crable, chairperson of the communication department and founding director of the WFI, the institute reflects issues that have informed his own scholarly research.

“Communication is central to questions of social change and social justice,” Crable said. “Lots of programs look at social justice but don’t make communication the centerpoint of their efforts.”

While the institute was made official with a launch celebration on Oct. 1 and 2, talks between the communication department and Waterhouse began in the spring of 2008, when University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., proposed the idea for the institute to Waterhouse, according to Crable.

The effects of the donation have been seen even prior to the launch earlier this month.

“The money has been in place for nearly two years, and so we have been able to use Mr. Waterhouse’s gift to fund programs like the Vatican internship and our social justice documentaries even as we planned the official launch,” Crable said. 

The two-day launch started with a gala at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which featured speeches by Crable and Donohue, as well as keynote speaker Nicholas Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times. The following day’s events took place on campus in Garey Hall, where three roundtables — one for scholars, one for students and one for practitioners — each addressed the issue of communication as a change agent. The launch finished up with a concluding statement by Crable.

Though the WFI is still in its early stages, Crable is already thinking about how the institute will impact the communication department in the future. 

“I am already in talks about events for next year, including a symposium and workshop on human rights and transitional justice that would be co-sponsored with the Center for Peace and Justice Education,” Crable said. “This would not only involve Villanova faculty and students, but also scholars and activists from across the globe, including members of the international NGO community.”

Beyond this, Crable sees increased opportunities for students in the way of employment options, namely internships.

“As we go forward with the activities of the WFI, we can begin to expand our activities linking the communication field to social change, which I believe will also help create new possibilities for student internships, focused on advocacy, multimedia and public relations,” Crable said. 

As founding director, Crable looks forward to utilizing the WFI to benefit the communication department.

“My role is to be forward-thinking and to generate innovative programs linking communication and social justice,” Crable said. “In many ways, it’s to try to see how many creative ideas we can come up with to embody the mission of the WFI.”