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Teach-In on Race Looks to Harness Creativity for Social Change

woman in long braids, black shirt and jacked gestures with her hands
Ruha Benjamin, Professor of African American studies at Princeton University. Photo/Cyndi Shattuck

The Emerson community will again come together to ask difficult questions and share perspectives on identity, community, and social justice at the fourth annual Teach-In on Race, being held Friday, October 18, at locations across campus.

“The Teach-In is just part of the College’s efforts to improve conditions on campus, particularly with regard to how we interact with one another and with the world beyond our campus,” said event organizer Jabari Asim. Asim is a Writing, Literature and Publishing Associate Professor, the MFA Program Director, and the Elma Lewis Distinguished Fellow.

Related: President Pelton’s Invitation to Teach-In on Race

This year’s Teach-In will feature a keynote by author and Princeton University professor Ruha Benjamin, who will present “Race to the Future: Rethinking Innovation, Inequity, and Imagination in Everyday Life.”

A major theme being explored this year is mass incarceration, with a panel on “Disrupting Mass Incarceration,” moderated by Emerson Prison Initiative Director and Associate Professor Mneesha Gellman, and a screening of In Their Shoes, a documentary produced by alumna  Cheryl Buchanan, MFA ’15, founder of Writers Without Margins.

Writers Without Margins works to “expand access to the literary arts for unheard and under-resourced communities in Greater Boston … through free, collaborative writing workshops, public readings, and publication opportunities.”

Each year, the Teach-In examines issues surrounding immigrant rights. On October 18, Elma Lewis Center Executive Director Tamera Marko will moderate “Creating Theatre and Film to Advocate for the Rights of Immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).”

Student advocacy group POWER and performance groups SkinTones and Flawless Brown, are also participating in the day’s events.  

“We continue to look at ways in which all the creative personalities in our community can use their gifts to build community and affect social change,” Asim said.


9:45 am
Cutler Majestic Theatre — SkinTones perform (doors open at 9:15 am)

10:00-11:00 am
Cutler Majestic Theatre — Keynote: “Race to the Future: Rethinking Innovation, Inequity, and Imagination in Everyday Life”
Ruha Benjamin, Professor of African American Studies, Princeton University, and Author of People’s Science: Bodies and Rights of the Stem Cell Frontier.

Benjamin has studied the social dimensions of science, technology and medicine for over 15 years, and speaks widely on issues of innovation, equity, health, and justice in the U.S. and globally. She is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the 2017 President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton.

Her forthcoming second book, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, examines the relationship between machine bias and systemic racism, analyzing specific cases of “discriminatory design” and offering tools for a socially conscious approach to tech development.

Benjamin’s work is published in numerous journals, including Science, Technology, and Human Values; Policy & Society; Ethnicity & Health; and the Annals of the American Academy of Social and Political Science, and reported on in national and international news outlets, including the Guardian, National Geographic, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and Nature.

11:15 am-12:15 pm
Tufte, Semel Theater – Change Artists

Daniel Callahan, MFA ’18, Filmmaker, MassQ Project
Lina Maria Giraldo, Journalist-in-Residence, Journalism
Cannupa Hanska Luger, Multidisciplinary Artist
Moderator: TBA

Walker Building, Room 202 – Business of Race
Kristin Lieb, Associate Professor, Marketing Communication
Bithiah Carter, President, New England Blacks in Philanthropy
Moderator: Wes Jackson, Executive-in-Residence, Marketing Communication and Director, Business of Creative Enterprises

12:30-1:30 pm
172 Tremont, Owens Multipurpose Room – The POWER You Hold
A student-led panel discussing different methods of collective organizing and accountability. Followed by an open audience forum detailing what people want to see from us and the school. Organized by student advocacy group POWER.

Iwasaki Library – Ciera Burch Reading
Join the Iwasaki Library and MFA candidate Ciera Burch for a reading from her short story, “Yvonne,” this year’s One City One Story selection (part of the Boston Book Festival), followed by a question and answer session with the author. Now in its 10th year, the One City One Story program is designed to foster a culture of literature and idea-sharing in the city of Boston. The Boston Book Festival is held every fall in Copley Square and Roxbury. Pick up a free copy of “Yvonne” at the Library Service Desk or at

1:45-2:45 pm
Tufte, Semel Theater — Disrupting Mass Incarceration
Arthur Bembury, executive director, Partakers
Michael Cox, national director, Black and Pink
Kaneesha Johnson, Petey Greene
Moderator: Mneesha Gellman, Emerson Prison Initiative and Associate Professor, Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies

Walker Building, Room 202 – Building Communication Through Art
Johnette Ellis, MFA ‘16, Mother Mercy
Alex Charalambides, Managing Director, Mass LEAP (Literary Education and Performance)
Rashin Fahandej, Assistant Professor, Visual and Media Arts
Moderator: Jae Williams ’08, MA ‘16, Affiliated Faculty, Visual and Media Arts, and Filmmaker

3:00-4:00 pm
148 Boylston Street, Elma Lewis Center – Creating Theatre and Film to Advocate for the Rights of Immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
A conversation with members of the Massachusetts TPS Committee; the Boston Experimental Theater; and actors from The Last Dream, a theatre production and documentary film about children whose parents risk deportation if TPS is ended. They created and performed a play to educate and inspire people to support their cause and act in their defense. Moderated by Tamera Marko, Director, Elma Lewis Center

Tufte, Semel Theater – Film: In Their Shoes
Cheryl Buchanan, MFA ’15, Writers Without Margins
Mathematics, Writers Without Margins

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