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Faculty Spotlight: Robert Ulin

Faculty Spotlight

Race is one of the hardest topics for anyone to talk about. A new exhibit on its way to Rochester hopes to tackle this difficult subject matter and reach out to the greater community as a result.

'RACE: Are We So Different?' will open at the Rochester Museum and Science Center on January 26th. The exhibit was developed by the American Anthropological Association and has been on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Mayo Clinic.

One of the influential forces behind bringing the exhibit to Rochester is Robert Ulin, a professor of sociology and anthropology at RIT.

When Ulin was still at Western Michigan University, he was approached by a junior colleague about an innovative multimedia exhibit that explored the history of race. Kalamazoo hosted that exhibit in 2010 and this year, Ulin is helping to bring it to Rochester.

"Wonderful exhibits come and go," said Ulin. "but problems they represent seem to persist."

Ulin believes Rochester is an ideal location for the RACE exhibit due to its history with abolitionist Frederick Douglas and the race riots in 1964.

The exhibit approaches the discussion and myth of race through a series of multimedia and interactive elements. These include creating a collage of skin tones from photos of visitors skin tones to challenge categorizations and reading stories of the internment of Japanese during World War II or the Trail of Tears.

With the exhibit coming in January, programming events have been planned alongside it to augment the area connection. The first event will be co-sponsored by RIT and feature a number of experts speaking on a panel about social justice.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for RIT to have leadership in an area they aren't usually known for," said Ulin. "We're seen as a little remote from Rochester and its troubles."

Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Kevin McDonald echoed Ulin's sentiments.

"I think it's wonderful to have something of this magnitude coming to Rochester when you look at all the other places that it's been," said McDonald.

With diversity amongst students, faculty and staff increasing in the Institute, McDonald believes connecting with the RACE exhibit is an important step.

"I think it recognizes, with the changing demographics, that being able to have these discussions about the appropriate teaching and learning tools for growing diverse communities is valuable," said McDonald.

RIT will also be one of the area schools providing students to serve as docents for the exhibit to enhance the experience for those involved.

"We'll all be asked to stretch ourselves so students can feel adequately prepared to answer questions," said Ulin.

With co-operation between different institutions in the area, Ulin sees the RACE exhibit as a tremendous opportunity to generate an open dialogue between academia, community groups and the general public.

"If you take an event like the RACE exhibit and build bridges between the institutions and community, the results are self-evident," said Ulin.