It was an absolute joy to host the first large-scale anti-racism event in the People’s Republic of China, as I wrote about in this recent article. To our shock and amazement, over 300 of our Chinese students showed up to hear directly from American civil rights legends who discussed their own brave and visionary experiences in shaping American history, as well as fostering Afro-Asian solidarity.
I am so grateful to all in China and America who made this historic night possible — and to all the students who attended and later shared their reflections on what we discussed. This unique and special evening required incredible diplomacy and sensitivity — and its success showed how liberal arts education has the power to carve out space for dialogue and connection across borders in truly radical and transformative ways.
Liberal arts education is, if done right, dialogue — with the past, present, and future. Thanks to my eclectic degrees, I’ve been able to offer a variety of courses unlike any others in China — seminars on Africa, the archaeology of death (a big cultural taboo!), playwriting, mental health awareness, and mind and machine. On a field-trip, my adventurous students and I explored ancient Shu culture at Jinsha, a UNESCO archaeological site, where we studied Asian elephant and boar tusks, an exquisite gold mask, and the golden sunbird disc used today as the emblem of Chengdu.
My brilliant Mind and Machine students tagged along virtually with me to attend a philosophy of mind conference I was speaking at at KU Leuven in Belgium on Posthuman Mimesis — my artificial intelligence majors in particular were enthralled with Professor Kevin Warwick’s keynote on being the world’s first cyborg and how implant and electrode technology is being developed for neural illnesses, robots, and human enhancement.
With the help of Zoom technology, I was even able to beam into my classroom a New York Times journalist from Sudan, a cutting-edge queer Chinese playwright, a Broadway producer, an Ivy League classics professor, and a Cambridge therapist to put my students in touch with leading professionals in their fields. My students and I even made history together — from translating Ge’ez (Classical Ethiopic) to producing Sichuan University’s first playwriting festival to bring their innovative theatrical creations to life (no ghosts allowed — they’ve been banned on stage since 1963).
What a joy to try and give them the best that American liberal arts education has to offer! It’s been thrilling to watch our students get accepted into the best graduate schools in America: MIT, Columbia, Stanford, Duke, John Hopkins, Cornell, University of Pittsburgh, UCLA, University of Michigan, UPenn, and Carnegie Mellon. I feel honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to teach them — before they go out and change the world.