Meet Our Scholar-in-Residence: Dr. Jennifer Suchland

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Freedom Center Voices
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Freedom Center Voices
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Meet Our Scholar-in-Residence: Dr. Jennifer Suchland

My name is Dr. Jennifer Suchland. I am an Associate Professor at The Ohio State University and am honored to be in residency this academic year at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. This opportunity is made possible by a Scholars & Society fellowship from the American Council of Learned Society and Mellon Foundation.

Purpose

The aim of the fellowship is to partner scholars with non-university organizations for mutual growth and to advance the arts and humanities in society. I am excited to learn from the museum and contribute to its mission to preserve and reveal the stories of the underground railroad and inspire the public to engage in racial and social justice issues today.

Context

This is a critical moment in America. We face multiple crises including the Covid-19 pandemic and the political, economic, and ethical crises wrought by systemic racism, staggering inequities, and heterosexism. Now more than ever, people turn to universities and museums for accurate information, inspiration, guidance, and opportunities for respectful dialogue. The role of the arts and humanities is vital to the work of individually and collectively grappling with our national and global conditions and essential for imagining otherwise. I strongly believe that classrooms and museums are the democratic epicenters for encouraging critical reflection and thus are instrumental to social change.

Exploration

The broad theme of the fellowship is “Abolition Today,” which sets the stage for me to explore the multiple meanings of abolition in today’s world. For instance, those who call themselves neo-abolitionists in the fight against human trafficking (i.e. “modern day slavery”) leverage the ethical and emotional archive of the historical struggle to abolish chattel slavery in the United States. Many advocates approach anti-trafficking as the newest example of anti-slavery activism.

At the same time, other advocates are working towards prison abolition, seeking to dismantle a system that is the living legacy of Black enslavement. For them, prisons are a modern form of slavery.

As public consciousness only grows about critical issues such as mass incarceration and human trafficking, the tensions and intersections between these two abolitionist claims demands greater public reflection. Not simply an issue of semantics, the meanings of abolition today speaks to present-day ethical demands made by U.S. slavery and the political imagination needed to move beyond carceral human rights.

On a personal note, I also reflect on my position as a white cis-gendered queer middle-class woman in the context of abolition today. I want to dig deeply into the radical history of anti-slavery to better understand what it means to be abolitionist today.

Collaboration

Currently I am working with Christopher Miller, Senior Director of Education and Community Engagement, Novella Nimmo, Education Coordinator, and Asia Harris, Youth Programs Manager. In particular, Asia and I are working on revising and adding to the museum’s k-12 curriculum. I already have learned a lot about public education and the significant role that the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center plays in public education. There is a lot of demand for rigorous and thoughtful curriculum that illuminates the past and that can connect to people’s lives today. I hope to bring my scholarly expertise, which thematically is on critical human rights, as well as my experience in collaborative arts and humanities practices to the museum in this residency.

Sharing the Journey

Over the course of the academic year, keep an eye out for periodic updates here on the Freedom Center Voices blog. We invite you to follow along as I share more about my research and other topics related to the project. I’m honored to have the opportunity to connect with the Freedom Center family and excited to see where our collaboration goes.

Dr. Jennifer Suchland
2020-2021 Scholar-in-Residence
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Dr. Jennifer Suchland (she/her) is an associate professor at Ohio State University in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality and the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures. Her research, teaching, and activism are focused on critical human rights, intersectional and transnational feminism, and the intersection of law and culture. She is an avid gardener, loves to cook, bike, and go hiking with her friends and family. You can find her on Twitter @mightykale.
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