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Penn State funds ‘decolonial graphic novel’ and other CRT art projects

One ‘landscape architecture’ project sought to remove ‘inherent euro-centric/colonial biases’

Pennsylvania State University’s College of Arts and Architecture created a “racial-justice grants” program for projects that “[seek] to understand racial and social inequities and structural injustice in the United States and beyond.”

The projects were aimed at “mitigating or ending racial injustice and discriminatory practices,” according to a description provided to The College Fix.

Some of the recipients of the “Racial Justice, Anti-Discrimination and Democratic Practices” grant included a poster display from Professor Michelle Bae-Dimitriadis titled “Decolonial Graphic Novel: Anti-Racist Ecological Tale from Margin” and another poster display titled “Expansive Representation: An Analytical Framework for Landscape Graphic Precedent from the Environmental Justice Movement.”

Professor Bae-Dimitriadis (pictured) teaches art education and women’s and gender studies.

The Fix reached out to Zsuzsanna Nagy, arts manager at the Borland Project Space, which hosted the exhibition, to find out more information. Nagy provided The Fix with documentation on the displayed material and the parameters of the exhibit.

One of the research projects displayed at the exhibit “sought to expand and challenge traditional approaches to visual representation standards within landscape architecture by stripping away inherent euro-centric/colonial biases and emphasizing the communication forms within the environmental justice movements.”

As the researchers put it, the “research protocol relied on a framework of critical race theory.”

Later in the project description, the researchers stated that to decolonize the research process one must decolonize their own biases.

None of the researchers attempted to be objective or “value-neutral” because such “approaches are unhelpful in challenging uneven power dynamics,” the researchers wrote.

Instead, “all researchers and research assistants (both individually and collectively) critically questioned their positionality with the shared goal of elevating the goals, voices, and imagery from Black, Indigenous, and Other People and Communities of Color.”

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Another project funded by the grant “draws on decolonizing-oriented anti-racist ecological thinking to create graphic novels that comprise several short stories.”

“Taking the subcultural artistic style of anime/manga, our creation of the digital graphic novel as an informal learning tool uses humor and a nuanced tone to address liberal, politically-charged content that is often uncomfortable and tabooed in U.S. formal schooling,” the project description stated. “In the process, we identified deep-rooted settler colonial environmental violence and affect, settler common sense and habits, and histories of colonial earth; named the masters of broken land; and redressed the legacy of racism.”

Penn State did not offer more details regarding the grant program on its website or the source of funding.

The Fix reached out to the Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Architecture Folayemi Wilson via email twice in the past few weeks for more information about the program, but her office stated she was “unavailable.”

University leadership has come under criticism from some professors and students at the university for canceling the planned Center for Racial Justice.

This created a backlash from professors and students who condemned the decision.

The university reportedly stated then that it wished to focus on improving DEI programs already in place instead of funding new ones.

The university promised that “financial investment in existing DEIB initiatives across Penn State will be at least as much as would have been committed to the Center for Racial Justice over the next five years,” The Fix previously reported.

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IMAGE: Michelle Bae-Dimitradis; Department of Asian Studies Penn State

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About the Author
William Diaz-Berthiaume -- University of Calgary