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Empathy & Social Justice

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This program aired Friday, October 23th, 2020 @ 12 EST

What is empathy and how does it affect social justice? How does lack of empathy explain disparities in areas from health care to criminal justice? Join The Center for a conversation with Dr. Alisha Gaines, Associate Professor of English at Florida State University, and Dr. Danielle Dickens, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Spelman College. Panelists will explore the historical function of empathy, the limits of empathy in social justice, why it’s important to enter conversations about justice with empathy, and ways to bridge the racial empathy gap.


Dr. Alisha Gaines
Timothy Gannon Associate Professor of English,
Florida State University
Twitter: @alishagaines

Alisha Gaines is the Timothy Gannon Associate Professor of English with a PhD in English and a certificate in African and African American Studies from Duke University. From 2009-2011 she held a Carter G. Woodson postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia. Since joining the faculty in 2011, Dr. Gaines was named a 2014-2015 McKnight Junior Faculty Development Fellow. In 2014, FSU’s Spiritual Life Project honored her with a Transformation Through Teaching Award, and she won a university-wide Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2017.

Her first manuscript, Black for a Day: Fantasies of Race and Empathy, was published with UNC Press (Spring 2017). The project rethinks the political consequences of empathy by examining mid-to-late twentieth and twenty-first century narratives of racial impersonation enabled by the spurious alibi of racial reconciliation. Black for a Day constructs a genealogy of white liberals who temporarily “become” black under the alibi of racial empathy. Its genealogy includes: the magical racial change of a white Senator in the 1947 musical, Finian’s Rainbow; journalist Ray Sprigle’s four weeks as a black man in the South in 1948; journalist and memoirist, John Howard Griffin’s, five weeks as a black man in 1959; Grace Halsell’s stunt as a black woman in Harlem and Mississippi for six months in 1969; and the families of the Sparks and the Wurgels switching races for reality television in 2006. The project’s epilogue then turns to the cultural nerve struck by the viral media story of Rachel Dolezal, a former NAACP chapter president who was “outed” for claiming she was black.

Her interdisciplinary teaching interests include African American literature and culture, black queer theory, media and performance studies, narratives of passing, and New Southern studies.

She is currently researching her second manuscript on empathy and transatlantic, historical reenactments of, and public histories about, slavery and segregation.

Dr. Danielle Dickens
Assistant Professor of Psychology,
Spelman College 
Twitter: @DaniDickensPhD 

Dr. Danielle Dickens is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Spelman College. Dr. Dickens earned her B.A. in psychology from Spelman College, and her M.S. and Ph.D. from Colorado State University in Applied Social and Health Psychology. She is also a Co-Founder of www.beneaththefacade.org, a website that serves as a psychoeducational resource and digital community for Black women coping with stereotypical expectations and gendered racism. As a Black feminist social psychologist, she leads a program of research that examines stereotypes, discrimination, and intersections of race, gender, class, and age in the U.S., with an emphasis on Black women’s experiences at work and higher education. Particularly, she is an expert in understanding how experiences of discrimination may result in a coping strategy known as identity shifting, which is the conscious or unconscious process of altering how one speaks (code switching) and behaves in order to mitigate the negative outcomes of discrimination. Also, she teaches a variety of college courses such as Psychology of Women and Psychology of Racism. She is a recipient of the 2019 American Psychological Association Teaching of Psychology of Women Award and the 2020 American Psychological Association Psychology of Black women Foremother’s Mentorship Early Career Award. In all, her teaching, research, and service aims to contextually position and understand the lived experiences of Black women in the U.S in order to identify effective strategies to reduce inequalities and improve their mental and behavioral health outcomes.








October 23, 2020
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm