Scholarly Series on Hope and Empowerment

In March of 2020, along with defending my dissertation and the widespread arrival of the novel coronavirus, I began a position as the Coordinator for the Institute for Humanities Research (IHR). That summer so many were trying to find their footing amidst uncertainty and tragedy, and I remain grateful for the stability of the now-remote position that I had. Our team was interested in how to move through all this while demonstrating that the humanities is crucial. So we hosted the Adaptation, Resiliency, and Care series, which showcased the different ways people had been navigating the world during the pandemic as a teacher, a parent, a student, and community member and provided a way for our ASU community to connect.


In the Fall, Liz Grumbach, Lauren Whitby, and I collaborated towards hosting another series. This time we wanted to bring guest speakers from diverse backgrounds to talk about their work and how it relates to hope and empowerment. The first of these was with Dr. Kevin Winstead, whose recent scholarship has focused on social movements and religion, specifically the mobilization dynamics of the civil rights movements and the subsequent Black Catholic sub movement:

 

The second speaker we invited was Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist. I had read her book, As We Have Always Done, earlier that year and was in grateful disbelief when she agreed to have a conversation with us. This also gave me an opportunity to invite my friend and then-PhD candidate Jerome Clark (Diné) to moderate the conversation. This was important to me, because Jerome was the person who recommended I read Simpson's work. I have to say it was such an amazing feeling watching Jerome and Leanne, hearing not one but two Indigenous languages spoken to think through storytelling, identity, and hope. Simpson provided three renditions of one story, demonstrating the wonder of multiplicity. (As a happy update: Jerome is now an Assistant Professor on English and Indigenous Studies at ASU.)

 

The third and final event of the series was a turn towards the power and craft of fiction. I had read C Pam Zhang's How Much of These Hills Is Gold as a post-defense treat and was awestruck by the story and the writing itself. The conversation was as much about the book as it was about the fact that Zhang was writing the difficulties of being Chinese-American or Chinese immigrants for these characters at the time of the California Gold Rush, but that anti-Asian hate continues. We had invited historian Julian Lim to moderate the discussion because her work Porous Borders also unsettles the American West in interesting and productive ways. Zhang's novel was long-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize.



And now, heading into Fall 2021, I am reflecting on last year because I have left the IHR to be the Project Coordinator for the Global Drylands Center. This series will always mean a lot, not least because of the wonderful team I got to work with and learn so much from. I am looking forward to what's ahead for me at the GDC, and as ever find myself in deep gratitude for the work I get to do.


 
(Left to Right): Kevin Winstead, Leanne Simpson photo credit Nadya Kwandibens, and C Pam Zhang photo credit Gioia Zioczower.