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Faculty learn about new Trinity anti-racism committee and proposed IDM

Valerie Ashby, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, updated faculty on the Trinity Committee on Anti-Racism during her fall update to the Arts and Sciences Council.
Valerie Ashby, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, updated faculty on the Trinity Committee on Anti-Racism during her fall update to the Arts and Sciences Council.

A group of faculty in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences will examine issues of racism and racial disparities in the college, and the college's faculty governance body heard about its mission on Thursday.

Trinity Dean Valerie Ashby gave her annual fall update to the Arts and Sciences Council at its Thursday meeting. Throughout her remarks, she emphasized progress that has been made at the University despite the pandemic. 

Ashby made particular note of the new Trinity Committee on Anti-Racism, a group of 11 faculty members from various departments.

“I am so not interested in yet another diversity committee that’s going to write a 12-page report and nobody does pretty much anything about it. Not interested,” she said, adding that the individuals on the committee feel similarly. Though the committee is only three meetings in, she said, “We’re serious about what we’re going to do."

The committee will “take a comprehensive and unflinching look at the structures that perpetuate racism and drive racial disparities within the college,” said Patrick Bayer, Gilhuly family distinguished professor in economics and the head of the committee, in a news release announcing its creation.

Ashby spoke to the diversity of the committee on Thursday, noting that only four of its members are Black faculty. 

“That is intentional, because this is really a broad issue across all departments, all disciplines, all people about us delivering on our mission to every Duke student,” Ashby said. “You’ll also notice that our senior Black faculty who have often been leaders in this area are not on this committee. That is also intentional. I do not intend to ask them to carry water any more.”

Ashby  also recognized tens of new faculty who are set to join the college, including two new faculty recruited as part of an initiative to increase “global perspective hires.” These are Professor of History Abena Dove Osseo-Asare and Grace Musila, associate professor of English. Both will come to Duke in 2021.

“We are going to hire, but we are going to hire at a much lower scale than normal,” Ashby said regarding hiring restrictions during the pandemic. 

New IDM proposed

Owen Astrachan, professor of the practice of computer science, and Victoria Szabo, research professor of art, art history and visual studies, presented to the council on a new proposed interdepartmental major between computer science and visual medias studies, as well as a minor in computational media. The IDM and minor, Szabo emphasized, would serve to “formalize something that was already happening,” and provide structure to the many students taking coursework in both computer science and VMS. 

“We wanted to think a little bit more about how we can participate in a larger trend that we’re seeing in U.S. higher education towards having computational media exist in its own right—really, as a growing, coherent set of programs,” Szabo said. 

The proposed IDM has no dearth of classes. The 14 course sequence features seven courses from visual media studies, including one theory-based course, and seven courses from computer science, including 201, 230 or 330, and a required machine learning or AI course. 

“One of the things we talked about in putting this together is that we didn’t want [the IDM] to be for students who didn’t want to do the hard work in learning computer science. We wanted them to have that core,” Szabo said. “We really wanted it to have that integrity from both sides.” 

Astrachan emphasized the merits of the proposed IDM, including the ability to explore electives in two departments over one. 

“I have been a stalwart advocate of doing IDMs for a very long time. When I teach the big courses that I teach, I tell students, ‘We hope you’re interested in more than one thing.’ And an IDM is often the way to go because it does allow you greater flexibility,” he said. 

Szabo noted graduate departments at Duke related to the proposed IDM—including a doctoral program in Computational Media, Arts & Cultures. The proposed IDM would allow students to take advantage of labs related to computational subjects and provide an opportunity for advanced graduate students to teach undergraduates in proposed subjects. 

The council did not vote on the proposed IDM and will continue discussions at their next meeting Oct. 22. 

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