Tulane School of Liberal Arts Magazine
The Responsibility Issue Fall 2020

Tulane School of Liberal Arts Magazine

Message from the Dean

In this issue of the School of Liberal Arts Magazine we take on yet another big theme: responsibility.

As the pandemic took over our lives, the summer and fall took on a different cast than most would have predicted. Calls for racial justice, to which many of our community have dedicated their careers, became more widespread than during any time in recent memory. Long-standing conversations about equity and inclusion became pervasive and urgent. .

Responsibility is a concept that resonates through the liberal arts disciplines, which offer lessons that enrich our sense of it. As a keyword, it has a long history with a range of interpretations over time. In the present, we invoke our responsibility to the next generation when we discuss climate change or the national debt. We pledge our responsibility to others when we work to confront racism, misogyny, and the range of limitations that dominant groups place on subaltern ones. When we put on a facemask to protect others, we activate our responsibility. It runs through scholarship: ethnographers consider their own responsibility to their subjects; economists and historians alike feel a responsibility to their data and archives.

At Tulane, with our deep commitment to service and to the city of the New Orleans, we call on ourselves to respond. To make a pledge to social justice, to our community, and to take stock of our own history is our shared charge. As we focus on the future, to refuse to be satisfied with statements alone but to engage in the hard work of transformation, is required of us.

I invite you to journey through these pieces as they enrich our sense of the many ways members of the Liberal Arts community engage in the difficult work provoked by this concept. I hope you will be as inspired by them as I am.

Brian Edwards      
Dean & Professor of English      
School of Liberal Arts

Why Does Inequality Matter? by David O'Brien

Why Does Inequality Matter?

A philosophical exploration of how moral inquiry plays an important role in determining what is equitable.

The Radical Floriography of Sarah Mapps Douglass by Mia L. Bagneris

The Radical Floriography of Sarah Mapps Douglass

An exploration of the earliest documented signed works of art by African American women.

An American Nightmare by Frederick Bell

An American Nightmare

Reflecting on family loss and decades of systemic oppression, a recent graduate organizes for empowerment.

The Ethics of Fieldwork An Interview on Responsibility with Claudia Chávez Argüelles

The Ethics of Fieldwork

How a commitment to social justice and accountability shapes a cultural anthropologist’s research and teaching.

Artist Spotlight


ANNIELAURIE ERICKSON, an associate professor in the Newcomb Art Department, explores ways in which photographic experimentation can reveal things that often go unseen. Each of Erickson’s projects maintains a specific research interest and visual outcome, but all of her work sets out to deconstruct complex systems through investigations into pressing social and environmental issues. Erickson’s ongoing investigation into the physical apparatus of Big Data aims to illuminate the structures of surveillance capitalism. She has traveled extensively over the past six years to document massive data centers around the world for her Data Shadows series. The photographs from this collection—such as Hardware Mirror 19, 2017, which is pictured here—are used as the base imagery for interactive eye-tracking installations and in the production of both traditional and sculptural photographic works. Erickson’s interactive installations question the boundaries between our physical and virtual selves and examine the relationships between our bodies, our environment, our data, and the power structures that attempt to control them all.

An Interview on Social Responsibility with Deja Wells (SLA '22)
Toward a Beloved Community

Access, equity, and building a culture at Tulane where everyone’s needs are met.

Sunita Patel (third from right) with members of the UCLA Veterans Legal Clinic
Mobilizing a Commitment to Social Change

How remaining curious about the world led a liberal arts alumna to a profound legal career.

The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward neighborhood
Play It Forward

A Mellon graduate student shares her passion for music with youth at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.

Photo provided by Laura McKinney, taken at one of her study sites in Uganda
How Environmental Damage Makes Women More Vulnerable to AIDS

Highlighting the key connections between the well-being of women and their surrounding natural environments.

 Musings on Epidemics from a Russian Historian
The Essence of Life: Musings on Epidemics from a Russian Historian

A reflection on creativity, politics, public memory, and a desire for a better world—linked by the coronavirus.

Illustrated graphic, "Setting the Stage for Difficult Conversations"
Setting the Stage for Difficult Conversations

Tulane professors strive to represent the patchwork of America through theatre.

graphic, "The Politics of Sexual Harassment Policy Reform"
The Politics of Sexual Harassment Policy Reform

All institutions, from legislatures to higher education, must deal with how power and identity shape workplace culture.

John Verano with excavation team members at the site of El Brujo, Chicama River Valley
Digging the Past on the Desert Coast of Peru

A professor shares insight from more than 20 years of collaborative archeological research in South America.