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MIT hosts 'Race in Digital Space'

MIT will host a three-day conference, "Race in Digital Space," to celebrate the accomplishments of minorities using digital technologies and explore current issues in that area.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, will be held on April 27-29 in Wong Auditorium. It will open with a keynote speech by Walter Massey, president of Morehouse College.

"Cyberspace has been represented as a race-blind environment, yet we don't shed our racial identities or escape racism just because we go on line," said Henry Jenkins, professor of literature, director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies (CMS) and co-organizer of the event.

"The concept of 'digital divide,' however, is inadequate to describe a moment when minority use of digital technologies is dramatically increasing. The time has come to focus on the success stories, to identify examples of work that has increased minority access to information technologies and visibility in digital spaces," said Professor Jenkins.

Conference organizers hope the event will serve as a touchstone for thinking critically about race in a wide variety of digital spaces.

Plenary panels will explore such issues as "E-Race-ing the Digital," "How Wide is the Digital Divide," "Authenticating Digital Art," "Expression and Cultural Hybridity," and "Speculative Fictions/Imaging the Future."

Breakout sessions, designed for focused conversations with smaller groups of conference participants, will address "Art and Hactivism," "Funding the Arts -- Creative Capital," "Digital Business: From Netrepreneurs to Corporations," "Hactivist Workshop: Organizing the Million Women March," "Hate Speech," "Job Opportunities and Training" and "Community Best Practices."

A concurrent video show and digital salon featuring experimental film and video,, CD-ROMS, web sites and aural mixes will be presented at the List Center for the Visual Arts.

"The exhibition will feature the work of innovators and visionary film, video, new media and web site designers whose work deals specifically with the intersection of race and technology," said Erika Muhammad, curator of the List exhibition, New York University graduate student and a co-organizer of the conference.

On April 28, a performance event featuring DJs and live video mixing will be held. Dancer-choreographer Thomas DeFrantz, assistant professor of theater arts, will also perform My Digital Body, an original dance piece developed for the event.

A pre-conference workshop for local and regional educators, artists and technology center directors will be held on Wednesday, April 11 from 11am-3pm in Bartos Theater.

"We want to spotlight community 'best practices' and encourage conversations among the dozens of Boston-area technology centers that support minority communities," said Paula Robinson, founder of the Institute for the Integration of Technology and Education, formerly a fellow at the MIT Center for Reflective Community Practice, and a conference co-organizer.

"Race in Digital Space" is organized by MIT and the University of Southern California in conjunction with New York University and the University of California at Santa Barbara. The conference is sponsored by USC's Annenberg Center for Communication and School of Cinema-Television, NYU's Department of Cinema Studies, and MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, CMS, the Communications Forum, the Council for the Arts, the List Visual Arts Center and the Program in Women's Studies. Major financial support has been provided by the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation. Microsoft is an in-kind sponsor.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 4, 2001.

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