The “Collaborative Feminist Scholarships and Activisms Roundtable” brought together five publicly engaged humanists and artists across the ability, gender, and sexual orientation spectrum together in conversation with a similarly diverse group of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at U-M*. Katherine Gibson, Nadine Naber, Amber DiPietra, Petra Kuppers, and Amy Sara Caroll shared their strategies and experiences of doing collaborative work in distinct geographical contexts, connected to, but not limited within, academia.

As someone whose queer identity pervades his life and practices as a student, teacher, and advocate, I couldn’t help but feel inspired in the company of such brilliant and caring individuals. Perhaps, that explains why I raised the following question in the end: In light of emotional and intellectual demands of collaborative activist work, how do you practice self-care? The panelists’ responses were varied. Katherine Gibson, for example, conducts walking meetings with her students and staff. Nadine Naber makes all-natural, therapeutic body products for personal use, as well as for friends and colleagues. Amber DiPietra advocates for intimacy with oneself, for allowing the body to produce new knowledge in a quiet, “unlanguaged” place. Petra Kuppers thrives within interdependency: to see and recognize each other within partnerships, to let this mutual love, trust, and familiarity strengthen oneself and one’s work. And, Amy Sara Caroll relies on writing, in particular, Haiku.

I felt extremely drawn to Nadine Naber’s end comment in which she went beyond individualized notions of self-care, and similar to Petra Kuppers, suggested on getting to a calm place by nurturing a sense of belonging in and with a collective. With that in mind, I asked the same question to my #PAGE friends. Here are their additions.

*The roundtable was jointly sponsored by: U-M Arab and Muslim American Studies and the Border Collective Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop.


Talk to Me_Blank Noise

Image: “Talk To Me,” Blank Noise (July 1, 2013)

As part of my PAGE Fellowship with Imagining America (IA), I was delighted to write about critical social change and public scholarship, and interact with fellows from member institutions around the country during a week long blog salon (September 14-18, 2015). Specifically, in my post entitled, “The Dialectics of Feminist Counternarratives and Direct Public Engagement: Towards an Everyday Praxis,” I discussed an arts-based initiative from India that continues to combat gender and sexuality ideals, entrenched in and sustained by patriarchy, not through spectacular protests, but through interlinked tactics of everyday performance and sustained public discourse. Read more on IA’s website.


CEAL_EPI_February 2015Image: EPI Workshop with SAGE Advisory Group (source: CEAL photo stream)

The Winter 2015 semester marked the end of my Engaged Pedagogy Initiative Fellowship with the College of LSA’s Center for Engaged Academic Learning (CEAL) and Rackham’s Arts of Citizenship program. Over the course of two semesters, Denise Galarza Sepúlveda (Director of CEAL) and Matthew Countryman (History, American Culture, and Faculty Director of Arts of Citizenship) in coordination with a range of academic and non-academic partners guided our training in community-oriented pedagogies. These meetings covered skill-building workshops on concepts and foundation of community-based learning, on building trusting and mutually beneficial campus-community partnerships, and on planning course reflections in strategic and creative ways towards enhanced participant learning. These meetings also included opportunities for interacting with invited community partners from southeastern Michigan to understand diverse perspectives and expectations on the ground. Additionally, we worked one-on-one with members of CEAL’s Student Advisory Group on Engagement (SAGE) to enrich our course design and implementation tactics.

The combined lessons of this fellowship enabled me to produce an undergraduate course proposal on participatory processes of land stewardship and community gardening in Detroit. My course entitled, “The Community Garden: Space, Program, and Politics of Engagement,” had three pedagogical goals: first, to build forms of self-awareness necessary for engaging communities across gender, class, and racial difference; second, to examine how our non-academic partners are imagining the city for themselves and how are they building the infrastructure to support community visions; and third, to collaboratively curate our partners’ spatial practices and lived histories for the Smithsonian’s archive of American gardens. Thank you Denise and Matthew,  Desiraé Simmons (CEAL Program Coordinator), SAGE students, and community partners in Detroit, as well as my inspiring peers for this incredible experience. A special thank you to Meg Sweeney (English, DAAS, Women’s Studies, and American Culture) for mentoring me all along.


ISC 2015 Poster_KP

With two of my exceptional colleagues, Matthew Countryman and Laura Schram, I am excited to coordinate the 2015 Arts of Citizenship Institute for Social Change at Rackham this summer. The Institute constitutes a multidisciplinary venue for exploring the conceptual and practical dimensions of public scholarship. It provides socially motivated graduate students an opportunity to raise questions and to discuss possibilities in the context of community-centered research, pedagogy, and practice. I see my doctoral work and my involvement with the Institute as one of mutuality and integration. Such a formulation establishes an understanding of engaged, public scholarship as a continuous arc through which we build relationships across sites, experiences, and types of expertise. It also enlarges the potential relevance of one’s dissertation for a range of meaningful careers, both within and outside the academy. In this recently published reflection piece, therefore, I position the Institute not as an exclusive moment in graduate education, but as a supportive and critical framework that affords multiple engagements with communities, as well as locations of scholarly activity.

For more information about the Institute and application, click on the poster, or visit the Arts of Citizenship website at: The deadline for applications is May 7, 2015.

The month of August marked the end of my spring-summer work as the coordinator and co-planner* of the 2014 Arts of Citizenship Institute for Social Change at Rackham. The goal of the four-day institute was to introduce socially motivated graduate students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences at Michigan to the conceptual and practical dimensions of engaged public scholarship. The institute comprised thematic panels, public engagement workshops, and site visits with scholars, practitioners, community members, and relevant public officials—all structured around such questions as: What does it mean to practice engaged public scholarship within the academy? What are the politics of producing work in public and for a public audience? How might we integrate community work over the arc of our lives as academics and as professionals?

The 22 students at the Institute came from 15 graduate units on campus. The four faculty-student engagement groups that emerged from their letters of interests were: arts and culture collaborations; community-based research; engaged pedagogy; and public narratives. I have curated highlights from the Institute into a Twitter collection entitled, ACISC2014. My involvement in this project and its ongoing life will continue through F14 and W15 semesters. For more information on the Arts of Citizenship program at the University of Michigan, see:

* With Matthew Countryman, Faculty Director of Arts of Citizenship and Associate Professor of History and American Culture at U-M.

Exploring Theoretical and Methodological Frameworks of Environmental Design Research for Advancing Social Change

Last week, I was in New Orleans to present at the 45th annual conference of Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). The theme of this year’s meeting was “Building with Change” and my symposium responded to the conference sub-track #7 titled: Democratic Design Praxis with Community. In this session, my co-presenters David Seamon, Julia Robinson, and I raised concerns about the diminishing stature of environmental design research and practice within the contemporary discourse on architecture and social change. Specifically, we asked: How might distinct theoretical and methodological frameworks, already well-developed within environmental design research, prompt re-conceptualization of the formal, programmatic, and/or spatial considerations of architectural design towards desired social change? At what scales do these frameworks operate? How might this session be introspective as well as projective to keep alive the transformative commitment of EDRA?

Each of the presenters built upon an important tradition within environmental design scholarship—broadly, phenomenology, structuralism, and critical theory—to evaluate a cultural phenomenon of significance. Jointly, we saw each of our frameworks operate at the level of what Groat and Wang refer to as “schools of thought” (2013) – conceptual systems that not only guide how distinct social needs are framed, but also suggest relevant strategies and tactics for addressing those needs. Additionally, we concluded that design experimentations in the absence of broader theoretical perspectives or schools of thought are likely to produce change that is idiosyncratic, short-term, and unsustained. Conversely, critical frameworks that do not engage questions of space, politics, and aesthetics risk perpetuating an oversimplified dichotomy of “objective” methods and “subjective” experiences. The session and the conference at large offered us a valuable moment to pause and reflect on the limits and potentials of our operative frameworks to participate in progressive social transformation.

A massive thank you to Mallika Bose, Paula Horrigan, Rula Awwad-Rafferty for organizing this umbrella track, and to David Seamon and Julia Robinson, again, for their brilliant papers.