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Johnson C. Smith University opens center on U.S. culture and race in China (750 hits)

Johnson C. Smith University’s College of Arts and Letters is establishing an American Center for Culture and Race at Guangdong Baiyun University in Guangzhou, China. The center, which is funded by a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State, is scheduled to officially open March of 2016.

For years, Confucius Institutes have taught Chinese culture to American students across the U.S. and the United States has returned the favor, with centers in China offering training on the English language, educating visitors about life in the U.S. and responding to requests from Chinese businesses that want to learn about U.S. culture. Some centers specialize in a particular area, such as the Ohio State-Wuhan University center that focuses on tech. As a historically Black university, JCSU’s center will be the only American Center in China to focus on race.

“Only a few institutions can have discussions about race with any credibility,” said Dr. Brian Jones, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “Most Chinese are aware of the idea of American exceptionalism, but exceptionalism is easy when you’re a white immigrant who can shed your past and obtain wealth. It’s more complicated for Black Americans, and we don’t shy away from exploring that context.”

Guangdong Baiyun University is matching the grant in kind, providing space, faculty and cost-sharing for the center. Dr. Matthew DeForrest, interim chair of the Department of Languages and Literature, is traveling to GBU Dec. 13-19 to purchase computer equipment and oversee the preliminary set-up of a digital and hard-copy library, which will feature film, books and music from before the big band era to hip-hop. The center will mostly be an activities and gathering space, using all Apple-based technology, with stations where students can connect to the American experience.

“The African-American experience provides context for American culture as a whole,” DeForrest said. “Making that context available for Chinese audiences will help put into perspective the complexities of events like Ferguson, for example. The center is a resource for people who want to gain that level of understanding.”

There will be African-American art on the walls, African-American literature and a lecture hall where speakers will discuss topics in English that will help Chinese students understand culture and race. Quarterly podcasts, videos and lectures from the center are available to JCSU students on iTunes. U.S. students and faculty from Charlotte (primarily JCSU) who are taking Chinese language courses will also participate in exchange programs to intern and cross-pollinate ideas.

“There will be different kinds of event coverage, from midnight basketball to commemorative classic football games, because though Chinese students learn English young many know very little of U.S. culture except for following the news and sports,” Jones said. “It’s not a new idea but the notion is to foment better diplomatic ties because of it.”

“It’s going to be exciting,” Jones said. “Our political system is built to evolve and change, and there is no better example of that than race. A people goes from chattel slavery to Jim Crow, through the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter. With the exception of the Civil War, most countries would not be able to absorb that kind of societal change without tearing apart. It’s arguable that to understand American culture, one must understand our relation to race.”

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About Johnson C. Smith University
Founded in 1867, Johnson C. Smith University is an independent, close-knit urban university located in Charlotte, N.C. It has a growing national reputation for integrating the liberal arts with business, the sciences and technology in ways that empower tomorrow’s diverse entrepreneurial citizens and leaders. Offering 23 fields of study, including a master’s degree in social work, to more than 1,400 students from a variety of ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds, the university’s excellent academic programs focus on servant leadership, civic engagement and global responsibility. For more information about JCSU, visit www.jcsu.edu or follow the university on social media sites Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
Posted By: Reginald Culpepper
Tuesday, December 8th 2015 at 5:31PM
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