Professor Roxana Walker-Canton, assistant professor of new media, film, television, and radio, has been interested in African American women’s personal experiences in higher education ever since she was a student in graduate school. “I was aware of a lack of diversity in the courses I was taking,” said Professor Walker-Canton, who has an M.A. in Black Studies and an MFA in Creative Writing from Ohio State University and an MFA in Films and Media Arts from Temple University.
“As an African American woman in film school, I was an anomaly at the time,” she continued. “My classes showed no films by, for, or about blacks. There were no models for us. When the few black women students in the Academy suggested that we bring in some films by black women directors from Women Make Movies in New York, I recall the white male students in the class protesting that they didn’t know why they had to watch the films and suggested that they had no production value.”
The idea interested Professor Walker-Canton so much that she began to talk to other African American women to hear about their experiences as students in the University. Over the years she continued to spend time on the project, and in February she presented the Living Thinkers Exhibition: Harriet Jacobs’ Attic 2 at Fairfield University.
This installation came out of some of the video material that Professor Walker-Canton collected for the media project, which includes the production of a documentary titled Living Thinkers: An Autobiography of a Community of Women, an archive, and a website. The installation’s associate production designers are filmmakers Tina Morton from Howard University and NaOme Richardson from Eastern University. The installation was produced with the support of the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.
“This project was an exciting companion to Professor Walker-Canton’s full documentary film,” said Dean Robbin Crabtree. “The multi-media presentation was highly engaging and evocative for our students, whether they study film and media, history, education, sociology, etc. The event animated our celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy very well.”
As a multimedia installation Living Thinkers showcased video clips, interviews, photography, and cultural artifacts. The title was inspired from Harriet Jacobs’ life — she escaped from slavery and became an abolitionist speaker, but had to hide in her grandmother’s attic for seven years before she could escape to the North.
Professor Walker-Canton first presented the media project at Emerson College in Boston during the Film and Video Association Conference. “This exhibition tells many first person narratives,” she explained. It also looks at the 21st century African American woman. While every woman’s experience in higher education is different, Professor Walker-Canton noted that often, “The story of one woman tells the story of all, but with degrees of experience. So there are places where everyone’s experience crosses.”
Living Thinkers: Harriet Jacobs’ Attic 2 will look at race, class, and gender in universities, and Professor Walker Canton eventually hopes to archive all of her data online. “This is a holistic view of a woman’s journey to be educated,” she concluded.
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