Emory University embeds social justice artists in classrooms, pays them to teach

The program joins Emory University faculty with Atlanta artists to aid students ‘translate their learning into creative activism in the name of racial justice.’

The ASJ program was launched in the fall of 2020 after the unrest that followed the death of George Floyd.

An Emory University fellowship program that places local artists with social justice activism experience in classrooms hosted an event on Dec. 5 showcasing its efforts.  

The event, hosted by Emory University’s Arts and Social Justice Fellows (ASJ) program, featured “live dance, spoken word, musical and theater performances,” as well as “multimedia art installations created in collaboration with Emory students, artist fellows and additional Atlanta-based artists,” according to the school, which is located in Atlanta, Georgia.

The ASJ program was launched in the fall of 2020 after the unrest that followed the death of George Floyd, as stated on the program website’s “About” page.

“The class begins in late August into September and we know what was going on in the world then—what was going on in the United States then,” said faculty member Hank Klibanoff in a video on the “About” page of ASJ’s website, referring to the unrest in the U.S. during 2020. “We are conditioned not to hold people accountable for killing black people.”

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ASJ unites six artists from Atlanta with faculty members to “co-teach an existing course and design a relevant creative project for their students to produce throughout the semester,” with the purpose of aiding “students translate their learning into creative activism in the name of racial justice,” as stated on the fellowship website.

Once paired, the faculty members collaborate with their corresponding artist to “design a project that reflects on racial or other inequities, and to embed their project into one of the faculty member’s existing syllabi on any topic,” with artist fellows receiving “a summer stipend of $2,000.00” and, “[b]eginning in September, fellows will receive pay equivalent to an adjunct instructor,” as related on the program application page.

“Through exhibits and installations that are created, whether it be film, whether it be photography, whether it be paintings, visual art exhibits, we hope to provide an opportunity for this narrative to continue beyond this singular moment,” said Carlton Mackey, one of the program’s creators, in a video on the program’s “About” page.

“This fellowship program is giving birth to a new generation of activists, a new generation in multiple forms of resistance,” added Mackey.

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In another video on the website’s “About” section, former artist fellow Olivia Dawson recounted a disagreement she had with her partnered faculty fellow over whether their course should have a racial focus. “My counterpart thought that it would be best to do something else just strictly artistic, teach them about playwriting or something like that, but I knew that, no, it needed to be more than that,” Dawson said.

She said that to persuade her counterpart, she sent her links from a “Dr. DeFranco,” who Dawson, in the video, erroneously claimed wrote Robin DiAngelo’s book “White Fragility.”

“Her theory is that only other caucasian people can talk to caucasian people about race so that they hear it,” she said. “After she engaged with that link, things just opened up and we had a conversation about going forward.

Emory University wasn’t the only higher education institution affected by the 2020 unrest. Campus Reform previously reported on an assistant professor at the State University of New York (SUNY), Plattsburgh, who said she “snapped awake” in 2020. She is now “tasked with implementing SUNY’s new [DEI] mandate that is required for all students to graduate across all 64 campuses,” as Campus Reform wrote.