Professor Christina Heatherton’s Kicks off Trinity’s Social Justice Initiative Lecture Series

Olivia Papp ’23

Features Editor

This past week, on Oct. 21, the Austin Arts Center’s Goodwin Theater hosted the first lecture for the Trinity Social Justice Initiative. This lecture was delivered by Trinity’s new professor, American Studies and Human Rights Professor Christina Heatherton. American Studies Professor Davarian Baldwin introduced Heatherton, noting that the community was beyond excited to welcome Heatherton back to Trinity after she left for a few years to teach at Barnard College.  

The lecture was titled “Grounded Ways of Knowing: Pedagogies of Place and the Trinity Social Justice Initiative.” Over a period of forty-five minutes, Heatherton eloquently articulated the intention of the social justice initiative and highlighted historical wrongdoings. Baldwin reflected on the creation of the Social Justice Initiative, remarking that the project was a joint effort and had been created with the intent to research, consult, and foster intellectual projects. To begin the lecture, Heatherton opened by discussing the space of our community.  

“How we form the border of our school shapes what we know about ourselves,” Heatherton said, encouraging the crowd to reflect on where Trinity starts to blend into Hartford. Perhaps it is the long and sturdy black fences with the pointy ends, designed to keep perpetrators out, that distinguishes Trinity College from Hartford. Perhaps it is the Greek life or athletic houses a few streets over from campus that delineates Trinity College from Hartford. Perhaps there is no delineation between Trinity College and Hartford, as they could be one in the same. For a long time, there has been a strong disconnect between Trinity and the greater Hartford community. Heatherton encouraged the audience to think about the difficulties, ranging from unemployment to death, that the Hartford community has grappled with overtime.  

Heatherton mentioned the events from 2014, when Michael Brown, a black man, was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. During that time, Heatherton was teaching at Trinity and was protesting outside Mather Dining Hall when a black student sprung up onto a table and shouted, “How can we continue on as if everything is normal?” This story accentuates an example of the refusal to be silent to human suffering.  

Heatherton was a professor at Barnard when a black student there was beaten by campus police officers. This man was a student, dancer, writer, and journalist for the school. After the beating, the student publicly reflected upon the injustice, claiming that the gentrification made it difficult for officers to believe that black students deserved to be in a place with such high academic caliber. The student asked those who heard his story to share the story with others to raise awareness of the possibility of these egregious acts.  

Turning the focus of the lecture to the mass killings of indigenous groups, Heatherton shared with the audience the pedagogy that the structures we walk though are forged through residual lands. The red pedagogy is: can democracy be ethically built upon the mass killings of indigenous people? Heatherton was brilliant and careful with her words and phrases. The true meaning of the lecture was derived from the long pauses which ensured the audience a moment to reflect on questions and social justices that were posed. 

Heatherton then addressed that Columbia University was home to the Manhattan Project. Although there has been debate on this topic, the atomic bomb made people into cameras. Heatherton expanded on this idea, as she described a photographic landscape in which shadows were printed on walls. These bombs evaporated people into mere shadows. It was said that people wanted to create nuclear weapons to ensure there was never hell on earth again.  

Each of these stories which Heatherton illuminated are examples of deep accounts of social injustices and reactions to these injustices. The Trinity Social Justice Initiative will serve as a productive way to channel the anger we collectively feel as a result to reading about and hearing these stories. This initiative will bridge the gap between professors and scholars through a series of research clusters. Heatherton closed her presentation by saying, “This is an invitation to respond to these moments of crisis.”  

This lecture was one of many. The following lectures will be in the Austin Arts Center and are scheduled as followed: Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 2:55 p.m, Rachel Herzing and Jordan Camp will deliver a lecture called ‘How to Abolish Prisons: Lessons from the Movement Against Imprisonment’. Herzing is the Community Adviser, Center for Political Education and Jordan Camp is the Assistant Professor of American Studies and Co-Director of Trinity’s Social Justice Initiative. On Wednesday, November 3rd, at 2:55 p.m., the lecture called ‘No One is Watching: Jail Expansion in Upstate New York’ will be delivered by Jack Norton, the Senior Research Associate, Vera Institute of Justice and Jordan Camp: Assistant Professor of American Studies, Co-Director of Trinity’s Social Justice Initiative. On Tuesday, Nov. 9, at 2:55 p.m., the lecture presented will be ‘Invisible Suffering’ with Diana Aldrete: Visiting Lecturer in Language and Culture Studies, Trinity College and Christina Heatherton: Assistant Professor of American Studies and Human Rights, Co-Director of Trinity’s Social Justice Initiative. 

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