DePaul’s wide-ranging initiatives to aid displaced populations in Chicago and internationally dovetail with its Vincentian mission to aid the underserved and oppressed and its numerous diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Chi-Jang Yin, who is a documentarian and an associate professor at the School of Cinematic Arts in the Eugene P. Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul, used her expertise in the field of diversity to advance the university’s equity and inclusion goals through her remarkable “Courageous Dialogue Series” project.
The video series, which Yin produced as the central work of her 2020-21 Presidential Faculty Fellowship at DePaul, was unveiled last fall on the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity’s website and YouTube. It explores the universal themes of intersectionality, anti-racism and diversity mentorship through the personal testimonials of 27 DePaul faculty, staff, students and alumni.
The project aims to promote open dialogue about diversity literacy, equity in classroom settings, and collaboration among professional peers and community activists through research initiatives.
Yin, who is also a trained diversity facilitator at the National SEED Project, asked participants to share personal stories touching on a wide range of topics and issues, such as disability rights in the workplace, the power of being mentored and paying it forward to others, and the immigrant experience. Several participants described experiences they had because of their race that motivated them to choose career paths related to advocacy.
Elizabeth Ortiz, DePaul’s vice president for Institutional Diversity and Equity, shared her family’s story of three generations of women who navigated racism, microaggressions and loss as they migrated from Mexico to the United States.
Cory Barnes, director of Loyola University’s Office of Black Student Success and former coordinator of the Black Cultural Center in DePaul’s Office of Multicultural Student Success, discussed how a racist experience with a roommate at a historically white institution helped shape his understanding of race and racism and guided his career as a social-justice advocate and scholar-practitioner who values community and connectedness.
Yin found inspiration for the series in TED Talks, the popular short, personal online videos that impart valuable lessons. She also sought to emulate 19th century African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who sat for portraits to make his presence felt and became the most photographed American of the 19th century.
“Douglass recognized the value of the camera as a social leveler to challenge stereotypes. He intended to take control of being seen as a man through this new technology at that time,” Yin says.
With Douglass in mind, Yin placed participants front and center. The videos were recorded over Zoom, a consequence of the pandemic that had the artistic effect of introducing visual elements of abstractness. Yin used plain backgrounds to remove a sense of place and time. In another nod to Douglass, she also photographed portraits of some participants by Chicago’s lakefront—another timeless space—for what she hopes will someday be an extension of the video project.