The Importance of Social Justice and Societal Change

My name is Courtney E. Colligan, and I am a fifth-year doctoral candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies in Pitt's Theatre Arts Department. My research crosses the intersections of contemporary Shakespearean performance, Early Modern theatre and history, and queer theory. My dissertation examines the relationships between incarceration, the prison industrial complex, and applied theatre over the past decade. I am currently working on my first chapter studying the development, production, and post-production of the Donmar Shakespeare Trilogy set in a fictionalized all-female prison. At the heart of this chapter and my work generally is the importance of the arts, communication, social justice, and societal change. Noting this importance, I found that my experiences this summer fundamentally reinforced these interests. This summer, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with an incredible organization that helps build our society's future leaders.

GirlGov alumni spread for Denise JonesGirlGov singlehandedly showed me the possibilities of a well-informed and powerfully executed non-profit organization and gave me hope for how on the ground, community-led action can alter our neighborhoods, counties, and states. GirlGov has been serving Allegheny County and neighboring localities for the past 15 years, inciting civic engagement and political action in those who identify as women. The project's original goal was to build off an impact evaluation study created by Pitt alumni in the spring of 2020 by executing the survey and gathering GirlGov alumni's responses. Over three months, I interviewed a dozen GirlGov alumni with vastly different yet intricately connected experiences as they spoke about the importance of collective action, intersectional feminism, and political engagement. From these interviews, I constructed a detailed alumni impact report speaking to the organization's success and future paths. I worked with Dr. Beth Sondel in analyzing the alumni's responses to map out four common themes emerging from both the interviews and the initial qualitative survey. These themes: community, confidence, capacity, and critical consciousness, speak to the core mission of GirlGov, to help build the future leaders of America. In the final report, I wrote and designed four alumni spreads correlated with each theme to understand better what these themes look like in community-centered work. The final report reads like a magazine-yearbook hybrid, tracing GirlGov's history, the survey methods, GirlGov's success in cultivating active voter turnout, four alumni stories, and an interview with the father of a recent GirlGov graduate. Rather than re-tell our findings, I've instead shared images of some of the report's final spreads. I offer such extensive discussions of the program to communicate with potential students the multitudes of the organizations that Humanities Engage works with and the skills required for these programs, skills gained from time in a humanities doctoral program.

GirlGov alumni spread for Sarah PesiBefore coming to Pitt, I had experience with graphic design and marketing while working for Virginia Tech's official bookstores. My work with InDesign and similar platforms (the software used to create the final report) is mainly self-taught. It has been a few years since using those skills. Still, this immersive allowed me to reinvigorate my visual creativity and allow for the intersection of my interests: community work, political action, and visual performance. I was glad to re-learn and develop these skills even further as I hope to explore Pittsburgh's non-profit sector following graduation. My goals post-graduation have shifted due to this experience as I have realized that my passion for teaching theater and performance studies also speaks to community organizing and social justice work through the arts. Due to this realization, I am expanding my vision for career trajectories after I finish my dissertation work in which social justice plays a key role. This experience encouraged my centering of arts and the community in my academic work and exploring and questioning the role institutions play in our societies. I encourage future students to partake in an immersive in the future because most of our academic experiences only highlight one career path following graduation: to enter into the academy. Having this experience encouraged my questioning of the academy as the sole arbiter of knowledge and put into action the critical thinking skills we acquire while in grad school. I'm so thankful for the experience of a summer immersive through Humanities Engage and look forward to seeing how this program reconceptualizes the possibilities of postdoctoral careers.

Courtney E. Colligan
Theatre and Performance Studies
October 14, 2020
Learn about all the Summer 2020 Immersive Fellows and their experiences with their host organizations.