Words by Diane Issa
Dr. Tara Conley, assistant professor in the communications and media department, was recently named among the 2021-2022 Race and Technology Practitioner Fellow at Stanford University.
Throughout her fellowship from January 2021 to July 2022, Conley will develop RUBY, a Digital Toolkit for Black, Brown, and Indigenous Youth Activists. The project was named after African American civil rights activist Ruby Bridges, the first child to integrate with an all-white public elementary school in the South. The project will focus on the digital media practices in social justice movements specific to Black and Indigenous youth practices online.
The project was also inspired by activist sisters, Nene and Ekene Okolo, who put together a digital campaign to pressure their school district to implement ethnic studies courses in its curriculum. The sisters started the campaign anonymously because they worried about their privacy and protection. RUBY acts as a firewall for young activists and advocates who wish to stay anonymous but want to utilize tools and resources to support civic campaigns that push for comprehensive and accurate Black and ethnic studies curricula in K-12 public schools across the United States.
“I love seeing young people doing this work. It’s reminiscent of the early civil rights works in the 20th century when advocating for integration in schools. I see this happening again,” says Conley.
The sisters will join Conley on the project as leaders to build a coalition of youth who will contribute and use the tool kit.
“This fellowship and working on this project means people are taking notice of my vision of change. It has been very difficult as a Black scholar, as a Black feminist scholar, to try to find institutional support. It is a very contentious moment in terms of racial justice, and many people fear doing things. This fellowship not only validates my work but is also a public acknowledgment that the work is important.
Not just my work but with young people and the other fellows who are focused on racial justice and tech,” Conley said.
This summer, she will begin to work on facilitating collaborations between other fellows and building youth coalitions.
“The most rewarding aspect of the fellowship is working alongside bright minds that I get to network with,” says Conley.
Tara Conley joined Montclair State University’s School of Communication and Media as Assistant Professor of Transmedia Storytelling in 2018. She is an interdisciplinary Black feminist scholar and media maker. She teaches courses on race, feminism, media cultures, and storytelling. Her current teachings at MSU introduce students to critical mass and social media theories and society with particular attention to race and ethnicity’s social construction.
Fellowships are a supplemental way for educators to build credibility by contributing their existing knowledge and bridging their field of study and work environment. Working with mentors expands on their education and enhances their experience, fulfilling their long-lasting contribution to their academic discipline.
The project begins with the first six months spent gathering an advisory board and listening to Black, Brown, and Indigenous Youth Activists. Technology developers and media producers then join the team to help build the digital infrastructure. The last six months will consist of a beta launch, releasing parts of the tool kit, and getting feedback from the communities.
In addition to the project, Conley plans to write an academic paper that follows the fellowship journey and, more importantly, recognizes the youth who will provide the most insight throughout the journey.
“In a university that emphasizes learning by doing, our faculty continue to lead the way through their accomplishments. Dr. Conley’s work is timely, critical, and has the potential to inspire a new generation of activists and change makers. She is exceptionally deserving of this competitive fellowship.” said Dr. Keith Strudler, Director of the School of Communication and Media.
This fellowship acknowledges the quality of education offered in the School of Communication and Media program at Montclair State University. Students have access to great role models who promote learning by sharing their latest and exciting knowledge in our classrooms.
To learn more about the fellowship, visit https://ccsre.stanford.edu/people/tara-l-conley and to recommend youth activists or a district that may need curriculum suggestions, contact Conley firstname.lastname@example.org.