Assistant Professor Tara L. Conley of Montclair State University’s School of Communication and Media has been awarded the prestigious Race and Technology Fellowship by Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab and Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.
Conley, a transmedia storytelling professor, is one of 14 scholars to receive the 2021 fellowship, which is awarded to exceptional social sector leaders around the world working on ideas to benefit civil society.
Her project will serve as a catalyst for change in America’s K-12 schools. Conley will work with students around the country to create Ruby – a digital toolkit for youth activists and advocates of color to support civic campaigns that push for comprehensive and accurate Black and ethnic studies curricula in public schools nationwide.
Named for Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child in United States history to integrate a white elementary school in the South, the idea for the project was born during interviews Conley conducted with students – specifically, the Okolo sisters, Nene (19) and Ekene (16) – from San Diego’s Poway Unified School District in the spring of 2020.
“When I was researching and interviewing the Okolo sisters last year, I was inspired by their passion and tech-savvy approaches to engage the community and force school change at the local level,” says Conley. “I quickly learned they were among a growing group of young activists of color across the United States currently taking up the fight for equitable and accurate representation in school curricula.”
The goal of Ruby is to address the challenges young activists currently confront as they develop digital advocacy campaigns. Ruby will address this challenge by providing interactive tools and resources that young activists like the Okolo sisters can use, distribute, and build off of to support their efforts for educational reforms in their local school districts.
“These young people are in the midst of what I believe to be a paradigm shift in public school education across the U.S.,” says Conley. “But they are also up against powerful institutional forces that are violently resistant to change, especially now, as the former administration worked to condemn educators, journalists and scholars who confront America’s so-called exceptional history.”
Tara L. Conley is an interdisciplinary Black feminist scholar, media-maker and writer. Her scholarship centers Black life in the study and exploration of place, media histories and technoculture.
In 2013, she founded Hashtag Feminism to locate and archive feminist discourse by way of tracking Twitter hashtags on the web. In 2015, she produced a short documentary, Brackish, about life in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. Most recently, her reporting and creative nonfiction essays have appeared in Bloomberg, ZORA magazine, Parents magazine, Courier Newsroom, and in the anthology Black in the Middle: An Anthology of the Black Midwest. She is also the founder of Media Make Change, a media company that specializes in social justice storytelling through media production, strategic communications, curriculum development and research.
“I’m really excited about the potential impact of this project,” says Conley. “I have an amazing group of folks supporting me at Stanford, as well as the opportunity to help build a network of youth activists across the country. Ruby is coming at a moment when there’s a strong desire from both the institution and community to make a difference. I’m just really grateful to be part of this work while the stars are aligning.”