Matthew Griffin, our graduate student spotlight for Spring 2023, joined us to chat about his participation as a fellow in the 2022-2023 Sawyer Mellon Seminar: Racial Reckoning and Social Justice through Comics Dissertation Fellowship. Matthew discussed this opportunity with his advisor, Alfred Martin, and decided that this would be a great opportunity considering he was beginning work on his dissertation which also engages with comic studies, race, and fandom. Overall, Matt and the other graduate fellow, Nicole Amato of the Language, Literacy, and Culture Department, used this opportunity “to make progress on [their] dissertation.” However, the Seminar hosted four mini-conferences throughout the year where they invited comics artists and comics scholars to present their work. During these mini-conferences, Matt facilitated Q & A’s, moderated discussions, and coordinated with the visiting speakers.
One of the things Matthew identified as especially fruitful was the interdisciplinary aspect of the fellowship. He says, “the fellowship was intentionally set up so that we were having comics artists and creators and also academics who studied comics” in dialogue with each other. Matthew recalls an interesting phenomenon where comics artists and academics who study comics both engaged with Afrofuturism, which he briefly defines as “examining futures in which there are Black people and people of color that are thriving and decolonizing a lot of the present in ways that had hopeful, optimistic futures,” as opposed to the oppressive and limiting settings that are often associated with Blackness and other non-white races. Matthew brings up this connection to illustrate the unique moment facilitated by the seminar where academics would analyze an Afrofuturist text while comics artists, like Stacey Robinson, would simultaneously showcase their own art that integrated Afrofuturism and art inspired by 1960s Marvel comics.
Through his participation in this seminar, Matthew had a first-hand opportunity to live out our values of innovative scholarship and developing community. Outside of the actual time he got to spend working on his dissertation, or what he describes “the material” aspect of innovative scholarship, Matthew shared how this fellowship helped connected different parts of his identities. For example, Lara Saguisag from New York University-Steinhardt, is not only an Associate Professor and the inaugural Georgiou Chair in Children’s Literature and Literacy but has also published several children’s books. Matthew describes being inspired by seeing firsthand these examples of people who are connecting academic projects to other interests in terms of creative, which he describes as part of the broader Mellon Sawyer Foundation mission of making “these broader humanities connections.” Part of participating in these connections and communities involved Matthew and other participants in the seminar helping each other foster networks and opportunities for their own scholarly and creative projects. In closing, Matthew says that his future endeavors will be motivated by “looking at cross-disciplinary connections” and if “there’s a way to turn academic things into public facing humanities and creative arts work” as a response to the oft insular nature of academic work. The Department of Communication Studies is immensely proud of Matthew’s innovative scholarship and intentional engagement in community.