November 3, 2005
Vol. 25 No. 4

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    Johnson shares his plans for Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Waldo Johnson, Jr.

    Waldo Johnson Jr., Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration, has been named to a three-year term as Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture. He recently discussed the role of the Center and upcoming activities in the following conversation.

    What is the heritage of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture?

    “The founding director, Michael Dawson (John D. MacArthur Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science and the College), established the center as one where culture is an equally important dynamic of scholarship on race and politics. This reflects an important distinction from similar centers and programs of study elsewhere and allows our scholars to study the lived experiences of people from multiple perspectives. This approach also allows the center to engage units, departments and schools within the University beyond traditional social science inquiry. My predecessor, Cathy Cohen (Professor in Political Science), began the effort to bring community focus to the center through her leadership and the collective community engagements of affiliated faculty and students. She recognized the importance of the broader Chicago community as a context for our scholarly endeavors and forged relationships with other institutions that have broadened and enhanced our understanding of engaged scholarship.”

    What is the role of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture?

    “The Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture is an interdisciplinary program dedicated to supporting engaged scholarship and debate around the topics of race and ethnicity. Central to our work is the acknowledgement that race and ethnicity intersect with other primary identities, such as gender, class, sexuality and nationality, recognizing the exploration of social and identity cleavages within racialized communities. The 33 affiliates of the center include faculty from across the divisions and professional schools who utilize a range of methods to investigate the material condition, the expressive culture and the ‘meaning making’ of racialized groups. The center provides research and travel study grants that enable Chicago graduate students to conduct dissertation research in the United States and abroad. In addition, the center supports University undergraduate students via faculty research and summer research projects.

    What are some of the center’s projects that have been undertaken by University faculty and students in the College?

    “One project was the Southside Home Movie Project, in which students worked closely with Jacqueline Stewart (Associate Professor in English Language & Literature, and Cinema & Media Studies) to preserve and archive Southside residents’ home movies that provide a visual perspective of the ways in which race and culture are articulated in various South Side Chicago communities. Among the events filmed by residents and showcased at a community screening party included an annual community picnic hosted by a Bridgeport tavern during the Depression and an African-American family’s summer vacation at a resort in Idlewild, Mich. during the 1960s.”

    What are some of the more recent issues the center has addressed in its scholarly activities?

    “The center hosted a major national conference on feminism and hip-hop culture in April that drew more than 1,000 participants nationwide. During the past two years, the center co-sponsored several programs with the Illinois Humanities Council in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision and a research, public policy and practice symposium on social work and social welfare responses to African-American males with the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers.

    What are your plans academically for this year?

    “In addition to the various fellowship and faculty programming opportunities the center provides annually, it also will provide research support to faculty examining the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The center hosts two bi-weekly workshops: The Reproduction of Race and Racial Ideologies workshop will feature a presentation by Candace Allen, a London-based director, screenwriter and the author of Valaida, a novel based on the life of Valaida Snow, who was one of the first female jazz trumpeters. The second workshop, Race and Religion: Thought, Practice and Meaning, is an outgrowth of a mini-conference the center sponsored two years ago. Professor James Cone of Union Theological Seminary gave the presentation last fall for the inaugural workshop.”

    What about activities involving the campus and broader community?

    “The 2005 CSRPC Annual Public Lecture featured Farai Chideya, a National Public Radio journalist and correspondent for News and Notes with Ed Gordon. Chideya presented a multimedia show on Hurricane Katrina, and on the following day, the center screened Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates in collaboration with the Chicago Historical Society, the Committee on Cinema & Media Studies and the University’s Film Studies Center. This 1920s film is the earliest extant feature film directed by an African-American. Micheaux’s attack on racism has caused critics to suggest that Within Our Gates is a response to D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. We also are co-sponsoring with the Divinity School and the Lutheran School of Theology a weeklong conference called, “Black Theology and Womanist Theology in Dialogue.” Early next year, the center will co-sponsor with the Center for Gender Studies a symposium that examines Wal-Mart from race and gender perspectives. We also collaborate with other University units and community organizations to co-sponsor a wide range of educational and cultural programming.”