Intersectional conversations about race, gender, class, and ethnicity have been important topics amongst the USF community. The Dean’s office of the College of Arts & Sciences organized the first Critical Diversity Studies (CDS) Forum in 2011 to highlight and facilitate conversations like these. On Sept. 30, the annual event featured writer and author Adrienne Maree Brown to discuss the titular theme of “moving towards radical imagination.”
This event generally proposes a crossover of academic scholarship with social justice practices through representation in artists, activists, scholars, and community leaders, according to the College of Arts & Sciences webpage. This year, it reflected on the implication of the COVID-19 pandemic on topics of critical diversity studies.
“This year we move through the trauma and inequity of the pandemic. We need critical diversity studies more than ever,” said Eileen Fung, the current interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. She introduced the keynote speaker for the event, Adrienne Maree Brown, and spoke specifically about the books Brown has written that have inspired her within the realm of the conversation.
Brown is a writer at the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute and has written numerous books about activism for diversity and transformative justice. “Particularly for me as…somebody who is constantly seeking alternative and different ways to lead and create change, Adrienne Maree encourages us to bring together concepts that previously, we thought, just didn’t belong together,” Fung said.
The conversation with Brown was centered around unpacking what “radical imagination” means and defining the parameters for which it could be applied to the conversation of critical diversity.
“When we are talking about radical imagination, we are talking about the future, what could be right, what could be, and when we [specifically] say radical, we’re saying what could be fundamentally changed,” Brown said. She mentioned Angela Davis, an American political activist, who according to Brown, “talks about how ‘radical’ simply means grasping things at the root, which [she] loves… the idea of radical imagination being this space where [people] go to the root of the system and imagine what could be from that place.”
Combining the philosophy of radical change with storytelling, Brown said, “We want to imagine stories in which change is a bottoms-up process. A lot of times, we’ll see stories where it’s a top down thing…we don’t see it in our world where one person actually creates a change by themselves in solitude. You have one person in solitude while a lot of other people create an infrastructure that supports.” She stated that in this realm, various aspects of academia are used as an avenue to drive discussion about change for radical thoughts relating to studies in critical diversities such as race, class, gender, and more.
These conversations were molded to fit the current post-pandemic social and political climate by expressing sensitivity to people’s experiences this past year. Because the isolating pandemic has caused mental and physical stress for many, the discussions surrounding the way people identify themselves in relation to others have become even more complex. Ultimately, the CDS forum this year worked to create a space for discussions about these topics in a positive and hopeful light.