Using art to teach social justice


Martinez and Perdue immediately hit it off through their shared commitment to social justice and community building.

“I feel a moral imperative to use my scientific training to help address the injustices I see around me,” Martinez says. Too often, she adds, scientists, activists and artists operate in silos when complex social issues require a holistic approach. A sense of hope is also vital, she stresses.

“It can be quite tiring on the mind to keep going through black infant mortality statistics, or the fact that if you’re black in this country, you’re much more likely to die at the hands of a police officer,” says Martinez. “We want to foster a sense of optimism and stewardship among students. We give them the freedom to imagine a better world.

In addition to scientific reports and articles, the seminar program includes visual media, such as the documentary “John and Yoko: Above Us Only Sky”; creative writing, including poetry by Ono and essays by James Baldwin; and podcasts like the History Channel’s “Tulsa Burning.” Joint courses will take place with the seminars “Fairy Tales and Flourishing” directed by Vincent Bruyere, associate professor of French and researcher in fairy tales, and “Nonhuman Flourishing” directed by Sean Meighoo, associate professor of comparative literature and founding member of the Animal Studies Society.

“Whether I’m doing stand-up comedy, writing, or teaching now, I try to be as creative as possible with the tools around me,” Perdue says.

“Whether I’m doing stand-up comedy, writing, or teaching now, I try to be as creative as possible with the tools around me,” Perdue says.

Each week, students discuss a different justice topic, such as food insecurity, sexual and reproductive health, incarceration and policing, climate change, environmental justice, and chronic disparities in health and infectious diseases. They are then faced with questions such as, “If you had executive power and unlimited resources to create policy to solve this problem, what would it be?”

The workshops will help students refine group class projects on their chosen topic, some of which will be presented in December at an Emory Arts and Social Justice Projects Showcase and Community Conversation.

“We also learn from students in terms of what form final projects can take,” says Perdue. “My generation got a lot of their comedy news from ‘The Daily Show.’ Today, TikTok and Instagram are big news sources.

“When students leave Emory, we not only want them to have a solid grounding in critical social justice issues, but also be aware of them,” Martinez says.

“It’s one thing to know information,” she adds. “It’s a whole different thing to be a global citizen who can navigate conversations about difficult topics in a comfortable, responsible and respectful way.”

Story and design by Carol Clark. Photos by Kay Hinton.

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