Welcome, and reflections on the year ahead

Greetings MASCLab Community,

I know that many of you are joining us from near and far corners of the world, and for some of you, this strange and complicated semester is your introduction to Teachers College. Welcome! We are truly happy that you are here and have joined us for what I know will be a memorable year ahead.

What stands before us is an ongoing pandemic and health crisis, unprecedented challenges to the nature and practice of education, persistent racism against Black Americans, and the fraying of our social safety net that adversely impacts the lives of so many. I wondered how to create space for possibilities amidst these real challenges and threats.

I want to share with you a few thoughts that helped me think about the charge for our collective work this year. This summer, writer and photographer Teju Cole was invited by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Germany to reflect on the works of Pieter Bruegel. In response, Cole produced a short film that attempts to put his reflections on Bruegel’s paintings—which, Cole writes, “are rhythmic in composition and often unconcerned with world events. But they take place in a world of concerns, in a loud and agitated world” – in conversation with contemporary media. He titled the piece, aptly, “Turbulence” and it delivers just that. I was taken with this piece when Cole first shared it on his Instagram page because the whole of it – the invitation, the media production, the remixing, the dissemination – offers a way to regard the swirl of forces acting upon us today, in this moment, in the world. Perhaps most poignantly, I was reminded of the role that media creation can play in affecting and effecting change in the spaces through which we move. Can there be a more obvious canvas for such efforts than the current media landscape that is too replete with abuses of power, circulation of misinformation, and increasing forms of surveillance?

This work of creating space for new narratives is at the center of the work that we do in MASCLab, and you’ll find this emphasis embedded in the multimodal scholarship that we support, scaffold, and encourage.

Some of you may already be familiar with topic areas and issues that are emerging as significant for our collective work: critical media literacy, racial justice, culturally responsive curriculum, participatory research, community partnerships, digital literacies, youth media, youth wellbeing. This is not an exhaustive list of topics, but our efforts do have something in common. Each of the projects and endeavors that we undertake as a community is done with an eye toward impact, recognition of multiple modes of inquiry and perspectives, and a commitment to unknowing – that is, to pushing past assumptions to give unexpected outcomes or answers room to breathe.

Media can make the world smaller, bringing the universe into the literal palms of our hands. And media can be an expansive force, pushing open narrative barriers in order to claim space and reveal new truths. I hope each of you will join this call to action and join us in creating media together that blankets our discourse communities with new ideas, new voices, and new urgencies that will help us to make change through our research, teaching, and outreach wherever we are.

These are trying times, to be sure. I know it helps me to regard such a moment with both urgency and patience, for myself and for others. As I wrote earlier this summer, MASCLab will always be a place where you can find support and cultivate a sense of belonging. And as we “rage and heal” together, I am grateful foremost for our community and the many ways we have to be and stay connected. Especially in such a moment, I am looking forward to thinking, talking, learning, and creating change with you all in the coming year.

Warmly,

Lalitha

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