November 16, 2009

Nikki Lane of American University presents her paper.

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By Mary Ann Sigler Stanton '89

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Notable scholars, poets, musicians and actors gathered Friday and Saturday at Bucknell University for "In Media Res," a symposium exploring scholarship on race, gender, media and popular culture.

In her keynote address, Imani Perry, a professor of Africana Studies at Princeton University, said that despite popular commentary to the contrary, the United States is not "post-racial — not even close." Daily life and life overall are shaped by race and the cumulative patterns of history and culture are evident in the choices one makes in life, Perry said.

The good news, she said, is that Americans do not want to be racist. Still, there exists a vast gulf between aspirations and the realization of that desire because of "old-fashioned definitions of race." Perry called on those attending to "be careful about making assumptions about what you see, rather than what you know," and to continuously seek to acquire knowledge and "become self-interrogative."

Scholarship and research
Scholarship and research contradicting claims that the nation is "post-racial" were woven throughout the symposium, including in the poetry of Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American poet, author and political activist whose interactive poetry reading challenged the listeners to question what they see and hear.

Visiting scholars selected by the symposium presented papers on a wide variety of topics.  Sean Springer from Stony Brook University presented on "Richard Pryor's Pain: From Stand-Up Comedy to Hollywood Film." Cynthia Estremera of Villanova University presented "My President is Black: Social Optimism in Obama-era Rap Music." And Bucknell master's candidate Belinda Peterson focused on "The Communal Womb in Haile Gerima's 'Sankofa.'"

A final panel featuring Gbenga Akinnagbe, Class of '00 and a film and television actor; April Silver, a social entrepreneur, activist, writer and editor of the critically acclaimed anthology Be a Father to Your Child:  Real Talk from Black Men on Family, Love and Fatherhood; and Martha Diaz, a nationally known educator and filmmaker addressed the subject of violence in film, television and the media.

'In the middle of things'
Nadia Sasso, Class of '11, and Kelly Malloy and Andrew Yaspan, both Class of '10, with the help of Jessica Hess, director of Multicultural Student Services, and James Peterson, assistant professor of English, organized the two-day symposium. A Latin phrase loosely translated as "in the middle of things," In Media Res is a literary technique used by writers to engage the reader by entering the story in the middle of its narrative arc.

"In Media Res demonstrates the Bucknell community's commitment to having proactive conversations about race and gender in the 21st century," Peterson said. "We garnered support and resources from nearly every corner of the University."

The University Press will print an In Media Res book of essays, which Peterson and the organizers hope "will serve to continue and extend these important inquiries and conversations."

Contact: Division of Communications