The Humanities Institute

Founded in 1986, the Humanities Institute presents a thematic program each semester on a topic related to the humanities. As part of Scripps’ tradition of interdisciplinary education, this program includes lectures, conferences, exhibitions, performances, and film series bringing prominent and younger cutting-edge scholars to campus.

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Latest Program: Dangerous Conversations: Raced/Gendered/Classed Violence in the USA

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1967)

How shall we live in a Post-Charleston America? This is obviously not the post-racial America many envisioned with the election and re-election of Barack Obama. An apt observation has been made that Post-Charleston USA doesn’t look much different from a Pre-Charleston USA, so the difference must be found in us, in how we respond. More and more people have come out against racial profiling, systems of injustice, implicit bias, and the indiscriminate use of deadly force, which can no longer be characterized as “Black issues,” but as real world practices that affect friends, family, classmates, and co-workers. The legally condoned killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Rumain Bribon, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice have raised concerns to a new level of awareness — outrage that moves us to identify the connections between racial, class, and gendered violence. How and why does America the nation-state promote systems of violence against its own people?

We will begin by recognizing how difference really works within the dominant logics of white privilege. That intersectional forms of difference are embedded within such dominant structures is a “given,” but they remain very difficult to excavate — but if we are to have meaningful discussions about social change, then these excavations must happen before we can celebrate “diversity.” As some people have observed, benefiting from white (or male or hetero or class) privilege is axiomatic; defending such privileges is a choice. So in addition to focusing on the innumerable acts of violence (micro- and macro-aggressions) that people of color face in their daily lives (i.e., Black male teens are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than white teens), let’s talk about why our nation-state tolerates the results of gun violence in our streets, in our public spaces, in our homes, and in our schools; why the USA has 5 percent of the world population and 25 percent of world prisoners (and also how African Americans and Latinos comprise 58 percent of the prison population but only 25 percent of  the U.S. total population); why rape culture is promoted in popular media and youth culture, in video games and movies, and practiced in our prisons and even on our campuses; why 67 percent of transgender prisoners in California have been assaulted by fellow inmates as well as prison officials; why extra-legal violence against “illegal” immigrants has been consistently ignored or even tolerated by various federal and state officials; how women in the USA ages 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence, how more than 4 million women experience assault by partners each year, and  how 1 in 4 women reports experiencing domestic violence.

These statistics are not well-known, but even mainstream media cannot hide the devastating effects of these intersecting forms of violence in people’s lives in the contemporary United States. But as is the case in all conditions of crises, there are people who are doing tremendous work of excavation — and rebuilding; a work that is constant and simultaneous. The Humanities Institute will welcome scholars-artists-activists, writers, and musicians — all visionaries who use their brilliant skills and talents to further the discussions around difference by yoking them to the urgent and necessary work of dismantling inequality and social injustice.

Calendar of Events

The full calendar of public events for this semester is available here.

Coming Soon

Tuesday at Noon Lecture: Jih-Fei Cheng

December 1, 2015
12 p.m.

Hampton Room
Malott Commons


The Design of Gay (Male) Desire: Race, Gender, Labor, and the Southern California Built Environment

Jih-Fei Cheng
Assistant Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Scripps College

Prior to the 1980s, downtown Los Angeles served as a site for queer community. However, the intense policing of Black and Brown peoples, the poor, the homeless, and queers, led to the late-twentieth-century establishment of West Hollywood as the “gayborhood.” Since the turn of the new millennium, the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles has attracted capital investment to reshape it into a “gay-friendly” metropolitan center. The upscale renewal of downtown commerce, residence, and queer nightlife has prompted greater demand for policing against an imagined racial and criminal element. This talk attends to how the fashioning of downtown LA into the image of a “global city” involves contestations over its queer past. That is, the restructuring of downtown, as well as resistances to it, depend upon the dual remembering and erasure of the racialized, gendered, and sexual bodies whose labor continue to symbolically and materially shape the Southern California built environment.

Jih-Fei Cheng holds a B.A. in Communication with minors in Chinese Studies and World Literatures from the University of California, San Diego; an M.A. in Asian American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles; and a Ph.D. in American Studies and Ethnicity, with emphasis in Visual Studies, from the University of Southern California. He is developing a book project tentatively titled “AIDS and it Afterlives: Race, Gender, and the Queer Radical Imagination.” Cheng has served as the managing editor for American Quarterly, the official publication for the American Studies Association. Previously, he worked in HIV/AIDS social services, managed a university cultural center, has been involved in arts and media production and curation, and has participated in the boards of various queer of color community-based organizations in Los Angeles and New York City, such as the Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment! (FIERCE!). His organizing work has addressed queer and transgender health, immigration, gentrification and youth homelessness, police harassment and brutality, and prison abolition.