Seventh annual Teach-In on Race aims to combat race and racism within the academy


The Berkeley Beacon Archives

Emerson’s downtown Boston campus.

By Adri Pray, Editor-at-large

Emerson’s annual Teach-in on Race event engages with Emerson community members to underscore the college’s commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and social justice. This year’s event is themed to truthfully teach about race and racism within the academy, and will take place on Feb. 16 and 17.

While the annual Teach-In is a program under the auspices of the Office of Internationalization & Equity, this year’s two-day program is the result of the collaborative efforts of the President’s Office, Academic Affairs, Social Justice Collaborative, Emerson Prison Initiative, Deans’ Fellowship for Racial Equity and Leadership Development, ProArts Consortium, and our dedicated students, faculty, and staff.

Shaya Gregory Poku, vice president for equity and social justice, will open the teach-in at Thursday’s 1:30 p.m. panel, “Lessons from Combahee: What Black Resistance Can Teach Higher Education,” in the Little’s Building’s Student Performance Center. Poku will discuss how the struggle and movement for Black liberation is highly relevant to current equity challenges facing institutions of higher education today.

“A Presentation from the Dean’s Fellows for Racial Equity and Leadership Development” at 3 p.m. in the SPC will follow, led by senior interdisciplinary studies major Pranit Chand and junior theater and performance major Beyoncé Stringer Martinez. 

Assistant Professor Joshua Streeter will cover several teaching and learning strategies to unpack and discuss “race, equity, power, and justice as it manifests in the university classroom” at 4 p.m. The panel, titled “Naming the Invisible: Deconstructing What Really Happens When We Talk and Teach about Race … and What Happens When We Don’t,” will take place in the Paramount Building in room 517.

Thursday’s final conversation, “An Evening in History with James Baldwin,” features presenter Charles Reese, an author, actor, and the founder and CEO of Teeth and Eyes Communications. The 7 p.m. event in the Tufte Performance and Production Center’s Semel Theater will require masks and an RSVP, which can be found on Emerson’s website.

The panel will discuss the historic 1963 Baldwin-Kennedy meeting, an attempt to improve race relations in the United States, in the hopes of sparking conversation surrounding contemporary race relations in America, specifically looking at “James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire”—a critically acclaimed novel that Reese edited. Described as a “salon experience,” the discussion is meant to pay homage to the Harlem Renaissance with call-and-response songs, poetry, art, and culture tools to engage the audience.

Friday’s program opens with keynote speaker Anna Deavere Smith’s address, “Talking About Race,” during the Friday 9:30 a.m. session in the Robert J. Orchard Theater in the Paramount Center. The accomplished playwright, actor, and current professor at New York University will discuss her career goals of “bringing people across the chasm” while personifying her work through theatrical performance to illustrate individuals she’s interviewed.

Per Emerson’s Office of the Arts policy, all attendees and participants must wear a mask at all times. A livestream link will be provided for those unable to attend the event.

A MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship recipient for her creation of “a new form of theater blending theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie,” Smith is best known for her roles in “The West Wing,” “Nurse Jackie,” and “Inventing Anna.” In 2017, she won an Obie Award for her play “Notes from the Field,” which was later named one of “Time Magazine’s” top 10 plays of the year. 

Her other awards include the 2012 National Humanities Medal by former President Barack Obama, and a Jefferson Lecturer honor, Guggenheim Fellowship, and the George Polk Career Award for her journalism all in 2015. A highly decorated academic, Smith has received several honorary degrees from Harvard University, Spelman College, the University of Oxford in England, and others.

The 11:30 a.m. session, “Education Behind the Wall: Teaching about Race and Racism Inside Prison,” features panelists Professor Wendy Walters, Associate Professor Yasser Munif, and Associate Professor Cara Moyer-Duncan, the acting Emerson Prison Initiative director. Moderated by Kim McLarin, interim dean of graduate and professional studies, the panel will be touching on the carceral system and its relationship to white supremacy, which will take place in the SPC.

Smith will also be featured in the 2 p.m. panel moderated by Assistant Professor Lizzy Cooper Davis, where the pair will engage in conversation with Emerson students about Smith’s project “On the Road: A Search for the American Character.”

The final panel will be virtual and commence at 3:30 p.m, with a presentation from the ProArts Consortium with moderator James Mason, the associate provost and dean of faculty at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. 

This space will platform Black professors at multiple intersections of identity to discuss their work and scholarship as a function of the histories and cultures racism has attempted to erase. It will also touch on how arts and communications programs at predominantly white institutions can intentionally and ethically make inclusive decisions to advance anti-racism efforts.