The Georgetown College held weekly conversations throughout October in a webinar series that invited faculty members to discuss how their research furthers the cause of racial justice.
The series of conversations, titled “‘Such a Time As This’: Racial Justice and the University,” explored how Georgetown University faculty’s research advances racial justice and examined how the pursuit of justice shapes the angles they take in their research. The conversations were held on five successive Wednesdays with the first airing Sept. 30 and the final webinar airing Oct. 28.
The webinar offered an in-depth look into the life’s work of numerous faculty members on campus as well as broader conversations about the intersection of race and academia. Each week’s conversation was organized around a theme and how it related to social justice. The first week centered on ethics and morality, the second on the arts, the third on intersectionality and women, the fourth on science and health and the fifth on spatial politics, a theoretical branch of geography concerning how people relate to others and the world around them. Each webinar featured a faculty moderator, as well as two to three other faculty members who were invited to provide a more in-depth look into their academic careers and how their work related to racial justice.
Professor of African American studies and performing arts and new interim dean of Georgetown College Soyica Diggs Colbert created the webinar series. A summer of protests against racial injustice following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor pointed to the need for these conversations on campus, according to Colbert.
“The summer after the death of George Floyd, [University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95)] made a statement where he asked members of the community to do some internal work. Really, in the tradition of Jesuit reflection, he asked us to think about how we might understand our own investments and how they might perpetuate racial injustice,” Colbert said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “Initially, we had a teach-in over the summer that was specifically around the death of George Floyd, but then, subsequently, we decided to stage a series of conversations, and that’s where ‘Such a Time as This’ came from.”
History and American studies professor Mireya Loza, who participated in the Oct. 14 webinar, said the series provided a valuable opportunity to discuss the research she and her fellow faculty members are all so passionate about as well as to show that anti-racism should factor into academic work.
“This is a moment where folks who have been doing this research should have a platform to talk and to share their research, their ideas and their teachings,” Loza said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “And for those who haven’t seen this as fundamental to their work, this is a time to reconsider that.”
Loza, who came to Georgetown just this year, also added that the series helped forge a sense of community between her and her colleagues despite not being on campus.
“It’s been really interesting,” Loza said. “Coming in as a [new] professor during COVID makes the experience strange and [the webinar] makes me feel very welcome that I have a community of scholars to interact with and engage, and there is also a community of students and scholars who are eager to listen to what we have to offer in terms of our expertise.”
Collaborating with colleagues on the series allowed for conversations that are necessary for relating otherwise insular research to the outside world, according to government professor Jamil Scott, who also featured in the Oct. 14 webinar.
“I think a web series like this is important because it puts scholars across fields in conversation with one another and also provides an opportunity for the community to engage with scholars,” Scott wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Opportunities for the students and the community to engage with professors demystifies the work we do beyond teaching and creates open dialogue about how our research relates to what is happening in the world.”
Government professor Terrence Johnson, who joined the first discussion of the series Sept. 30, underscored the integral role Colbert played in making the webinars possible.
“This is the brainchild of Soyica Colbert,” Johnson said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “Without her leadership role as an administrator in the college, I am not sure this webinar would have even happened. Georgetown, I think, is compelled to make decisions like this because of strong leaders like Soyica, who are at the helm and pushing the university to make good on its commitments.”
Colbert hopes that attendees take ideas discussed in the webinar series beyond the gates of the university. The webinar was about applying the work done on campus and in the classroom to the broader social context of racial justice in our everyday life, according to Colbert.
“I hope that the students who watch begin to see how the work we do in the classroom can connect to the work we do in the world. Part of what we wanted the seminar to do is think about the implications of this work for the larger social context of racial justice,” Colbert said. “For Georgetown specifically, that’s mission-centered work because all of our work is for the common good. So hopefully, students who watch it will get a chance to think about their work and relate it to their larger mission as students at Georgetown.”