Program will invite students to piece together 'puzzle' of Black identity in the Southwest
Amplifying Blackness in the Borderlands, a new program funded by the University of Arizona Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, will allow students to create projects in partnership with Tucson organizations that explore what it means to be Black in Tucson and the Southwest.
A new University of Arizona program plans to connect Black university students with local organizations to create projects and experiences that help them examine what it means to be Black in the borderlands.
The program, called Amplifying Blackness in the Borderlands, will take shape throughout the year, giving students opportunities to work with organizations such as The Loft Cinema and the African American Museum of Southern Arizona, which opened last month in the Student Union Memorial Center.
Stephanie Troutman Robbins, associate professor and head of the Department of Gender and Women's Studies, created Amplifying Blackness in the Borderlands last year. The program was partly inspired by her own experience moving to Tucson in 2015 to join the UArizona faculty.
New to a city with a population that is about 5% Black, Troutman Robbins began connecting with other Black faculty members, Tucsonans and organizations. And even though the overall Black population in Tucson is small, she said she was struck by its diversity.
"I was starting to try to piece together the puzzle of Blackness here and Black identities, what it means to be from here or to have lived here for a long time versus being new versus being a refugee or mixed race – Black and Indigenous or Afro-Latino. We know the African diaspora is vast, and there's a little bit of that representation right here in Tucson," Troutman Robbins said. "Just because there's only a small proportion of Black folks, it doesn't mean that our experiences don't matter or aren't important to think through."
Amplifying Blackness in the Borderlands is funded by the UArizona Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry as part of the center's Fronteridades program, which funds projects that aim to collect and understand stories, as well create learning opportunities about the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Fronteridades was first funded in 2019 with a two-year, $800,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation. The foundation renewed the program through 2024 with another $1.5 million.
"The Black community has deep roots that are critical to the history and contemporary understandings of place and experience in Southern Arizona. We are proud to support and uplift the efforts this program is making towards the education and awareness about the history and presence of the Black community in this region," said Javier Duran, director of the Confluencenter. "Our Fronteridades program aims to collect, understand and share the narratives, stories, art and effects of all diverse communities from the U.S-Mexico borderlands. We look forward to cheering on Dr. Troutman Robbins and her efforts, and the development of this unique program as it aims to connect students, community and local organizations in Tucson."
The program was originally intended to help Black students make artistic and creative projects that show what being Black and living in the Southwest means to them. But as planning for the program moved forward – despite a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Troutman Robbins realized that many organizations in Tucson were already working to do just that with their own programming, which prompted her to seek a more collaborative approach.
Amplifying Blackness in the Borderlands will now connect Black students with local organizations and guide them on their own projects to explore Blackness in the borderlands. Though the program is still in the early stages, Troutman Robbins hopes its partnerships provide students with a wide variety of opportunities.
One collaboration under discussion with The Loft Cinema – where Troutman Robbins serves on the theater's Racial Justice Committee – would possibly involve students in the School of Theatre, Film and Television showing films they create that explore the Black experience. Another collaboration will provide work-study opportunities at the African American Museum of Southern Arizona, allowing students to help the museum manage its social media, digitize parts of its collection, and organize and lead some of the museum's events.
"The hope is that students will connect to these entities and continue to do different projects with those spaces that lead to longer-term relationships and initiatives," Troutman Robbins said.
Amplifying Blackness in the Borderlands' work-study partnership with the museum could start as early as next month, Troutman Robbins said, with more programming to be finalized in the fall. To start, the program will invite UArizona graduate and undergraduate students to participate, but it may eventually expand to involve students from local high schools, Troutman Robbins said.
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