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Heading to the Point

Discussing the power of representation with author Jewell Parker Rhodes and Wanda Heading-Grant

Media Inquiries
Peter Kerwin
University Communications & Marketing

The Carnegie Mellon University Libraries(opens in new window) and Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Wanda Heading-Grant(opens in new window) will host "Heading to the Point: The Power of Representation(opens in new window)" on Nov. 9, 5-6 p.m. The event features a conversation between Heading-Grant and award-winning novelist, college professor and CMU alumna Jewell Parker Rhodes(opens in new window) about what it means to be represented in the world.

For Rhodes, the topic is especially significant — a single instance of representation changed her entire life. During a trip to Carnegie Mellon's Hunt Library as an undergraduate dance and theater student in the School of Drama(opens in new window), she encountered a book by a Black author, featuring Black characters, for the first time. The book was "Corregidora" by Gayl Jones, and though she was already a junior, Rhodes knew she had found a new calling.

She changed her focus to English(opens in new window), graduating with a bachelor's degree in drama criticism in 1975. She would then go on to pursue a master's and doctorate, both from Carnegie Mellon. She became the founding artistic director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and Narrative Studies Professor and Virginia G. Piper Endowed Chair at Arizona State University, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Carnegie Mellon in 2021. She is the award-winning author of two writing guides, a memoir, and novels for both adults and middle-grade readers — inspiring diverse readers around the country and the world the same way "Corregidora" spoke to her years ago.

"CMU opened up a world I didn't know was possible for me. My time there was immensely transformative, and I still carry with me what I learned at CMU." —Jewell Parker Rhodes

"I'm honored to join the CMU community to celebrate the power of representation," Rhodes said. "When I first saw 'Corregidora' on a bookshelf in Hunt Library, it was a revelation. CMU opened up a world I didn't know was possible for me. My time there was immensely transformative, and I still carry with me what I learned at CMU."

The Libraries has been working to center conversations around the importance of representation through programming, spotlighting and collecting. The debut "Heading to the Point(opens in new window)" event, hosted by Heading-Grant in 2021, looked at Rebecca Skloot's book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." At the event, Heading-Grant discussed systemic and institutional bias and oppression and the ethics of medicine and research. The conversation launched the vice provost for DEI's exciting collaboration with the Libraries, which continues with this event — one that is particularly meaningful to Heading-Grant as well.

"Jewell's story of that transformational moment in the library of finally feeling seen as a Black woman on campus, which closely echoes my own experiences, illustrates the power of representation in its truest sense," Heading-Grant said. "It helps remind us that we all need to be working together to make our spaces more inclusive, equitable and representative, so that no matter who you are, you know, feel and see that you belong."

The Libraries' Diversity Book Displays, exhibited in Hunt Library and compiled by Materials Processing Coordinator Leah Zande(opens in new window), spotlight underrepresented groups like Indigenous Americans(opens in new window) and the transgender community(opens in new window), and celebrate events like Black History Month(opens in new window) and Hispanic Heritage Month(opens in new window). Workshops(opens in new window) about a variety of topics, as well as an increased emphasis on open science and data(opens in new window), help to level the educational field for members of the CMU community from different backgrounds. And the university's Distinctive Collections(opens in new window) are working to increase access to materials that celebrate the contributions of underrepresented groups to Carnegie Mellon and the academic community as a whole.

Lending her perspective to the event is Community Collections Processing Archivist Crystal Johnson(opens in new window). At the University Archives(opens in new window), Johnson's role(opens in new window) is twofold: to process currently unavailable collections that include underrepresented groups so researchers can find and use them, and to work with organizations across campus to ensure their diverse histories are accurately and completely recorded through archived materials.

"My goal is to increase representation by helping people to tell their own stories, and I'm so excited for the opportunity to get this initiative out to a broader audience," Johnson said. "Stories about people who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color), LGBTQIA+, first-generation students, international students or who have disabilities are vital to understanding what CMU is. Our community members should be able to see themselves in our history."

"Heading to the Point" is a virtual event. Register now(opens in new window) to receive the link to attend.

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