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Lang Center Announces Engaged Humanities Studio Fellows, Community Partners

Red flowers bloom on branch with Ben West in background

The Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility is pleased to announce the 2023-2024 cohort of Engaged Humanities Studio Fellows: Nina Johnson, Donna Jo Napoli, Ben Smith, Deven Ayambem ’24, and Chunyang Wang ’24.

In close collaboration with community partners, each fellow will embark on a 12- to 18-month project that addresses a contemporary issue through the arts and humanities. Read more about the Engaged Humanities Studio, spearheaded by Lang Center Senior Associate Director Katie Price, here.

To follow are snapshots of the Fellows and their projects.

About Time 

Nina Johnson, Associate Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, Black Studies, with The Graterford Think Tank and, Ken West

This project is a film and media installation that highlights the experiences of Philadelphians sentenced to life in prison in Pennsylvania who have since returned to their communities. It will reveal the voices of people who were never meant to be heard, whose stories we were never meant to know.  

Nina Johnson in group

Child Storytellers aRISE 

Donna Jo Napoli, professor of linguistics and social justice, with the Community Pennsylvania School for the Deaf 

Napoli will collaborate with the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (PSD) on producing bimodal-bilingual video books for families and classrooms to share with their deaf children in which the signers themselves are children.

Group of adults and children in library

Seeking Refuge: A Shared Learning Experience

Ben Smith, assistant professor of Arabic, with Yaroub Al-Obaidi, designer, researcher, author

This project will pilot an exciting engaged learning experience embedded in a new fall semester first-year Arabic Studies seminar, Refuge: Resettled in Philadelphia. The seminar's workshop component models engaged scholarship and anti-racist community engagement in that it is community-designed and learning outcomes are shared equally with students and community partners. Students will learn about, and from, Arab communities in America through direct community engagement as well as traditional course readings and discussions at the front end of the seminar. In addition, each workshop will be catered by a member of the Arabic-speaking community here in Philadelphia as an opportunity for this community to share their culture and have resources directed their way.

Group in Penn Museum

Celebrating Higher Education Behind Bars 

Deven Ayambem ’24, a mathematics and engineering major, with David Buckley ’21, artist-in-residence and teaching assistant, Eastern University 

Creative expression and the arts stand in stark juxtaposition to the subjugating processes of incarceration. In prisons, where individuals are reduced to the free (or nearly-free) labor they can provide to corporations and the State, creativity serves as a powerful instrument for people to express and reclaim their humanity. This project will work with currently incarcerated individuals to create an exhibition. 

Celebrating Higher Education Behind Bars group photo

Chinatown Untrimmed

Chunyang Wang ’24, who majored in medical anthropology and was named a Humanity in Action Fellow, with Jing Ying of Artiva Hair Salon.
This project seeks to transform a Chinatown hair salon into an imaginary archive to explore the question: How has Chinatown changed and developed over the years? Through inquiries of historical archives, newspapers, and development projects, we continue to understand how extra-communal narratives of development are developed. The project draws on on Takahashi’s idea of imaginary archives to “envision unrecorded pasts, produce other means of legitimizing information, make old systems signify differently, and imagine as yet undetermined futures through the evocation of everyday people’s personal experiences of suffering, displacement, and loss.”

Drawing showing person at hair salon

Image Credit: Jing Ying


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