Lyman Dispatch: Grace Gipson on Unleashing Your Inner Superhero

10 Sep, 2018

Lyman Dispatch: Grace Gipson on Unleashing Your Inner Superhero

Grace Gipson received the 2018 Lyman Fellowship. The Peter Lyman Graduate Fellowship in new media, established in the memory of esteemed UC Berkeley Professor Peter Lyman, provides a stipend to a UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate to support the writing of his or her Ph.D. dissertation on a topic related to new media. The fellowship is supported by donations from Professor Barrie Thorne, Sage Publications and many individual friends and faculty.

Grace's project, "Releasing Your Inner Superhero," is a three-part project that includes the young girls creating their own superhero, digitally sharing their creation story, and transforming their characters into a game-format. Ultimately, it seeks to use new media platforms that construct new methods of reimagining blackness, black nerdom, and womanhood that combines digital technology and comic book culture.

Here's what Grace said about the experience:

"#BlackGirlsAreFromTheFuture…This hashtag and title from the 2013 book from cultural critic and blogger Renina Jarmon sums up my fellowship experience. Historically, Black and Brown girls and women have been underrepresented in the STEM fields, more specifically 25% of women make up the STEM field and women of color make up less than 10% as of 2013. These notions and facts might make some wonder what the future holds. Nevertheless, despite the statistics there have been numerous strides and moves made and barriers broken. As a society, over the past 60 years, we have been able to witness the first African American woman to go into space Mae Jamison, the first African American neurosurgeon Dr. Alexa Canady, one of the first scientists (Dr. Marjorie Lee Brown) to set up an electronic computer lab at an Historically Black College & University (HBCU), the creation of such programs as “BlackGirlsCode” and “Spelbots,” as well as the cartoon show “Doc McStuffins” (which features a young Black girl doctor) created by a Black female pediatric physician Dr. Aletha Maybank, and the showcasing of Marvel Comics smartest person in comic book history Lunella Lafayette/Moon Girl. All of this amazing production of knowledge (creative and academic) and showcasing of “sheroes” motivated me to join in and continue in this legacy of greatness, and further embodies Jarmon’s hashtag that “Black Girls really are From the Future.”

As a part of being awarded the 2018 Peter Lyman Graduate Fellowship in new media grant through the Berkeley Center for New Media, it afforded the opportunity for 15 Black high school girls from various Metro Atlanta (Georgia) schools to participate in various workshops, excursions, and mentorship centered around the theme of “Releasing Your Inner Superhero”. Through each of the workshops the young girls were igniting their creativity outside of the classroom setting, but still using their critical thinking skills to not just create a comic book character, but a video game to match it. From these characters, these young ladies were able to tap into their own personal experiences, upbringing, struggles, and familial/friend relationships. Many of their creations embodied a personal touch, which made their projects relatable and accessible. Ultimately, for many the workshops served as a therapy and release. In addition to the dedicated work, the young ladies were able to attend several film screenings (Black Panther & A Wrinkle in Time) which served as inspiration for their characters and the video games. The combination of the workshops and excursions served as a catalyst for what we would see in their projects. Witnessing their excitement was a reward in itself.

As a result of the various workshops, excursions, and “girl talks” I was also able to expand my horizons on the importance of Black girls in STEM and the connections they made with comic book culture. Through our sessions, I not only gained information that will ultimately be a part of my overall dissertation project and possible journal article(s), but also creating lanes for the next future chemical engineer, video game designer, and or U.S. Surgeon General. With the popularity of STE(A)M in the schools and the inspiration of such characters as the 2018 blockbuster Black Panther’s “Shuri” and the CW’s Black Lightning’s “Anissa Pierce/Thunder” the future for Black girls within science, technology, and superheroes is on the rise.

All in all, obtaining this fellowship was much more than a monetary award, but an opportunity to make a difference through my own research, while watching the future of the next generation thrive! It was truly an honor to be awarded the 2018 Lyman Fellowship and even more so to be able to give back to a community that is striving to make a difference by changing the world…one superhero and video game at a time!"