Your Gifts @ Work
When UI&U student Stephanie Johnson enrolled in the Cohort Ph.D. program, she was continuing a journey she started years ago to empower future black scholars and create change within her community.
When Stephanie entered academia 16 years ago as a faculty member at the California State campus at Monterey Bay, she was able to bring her life and work experiences as an African-American artist and activist to the courses she taught. Now, as a Ph.D. student at UI&U, she looks forward to the impact her studies will undoubtedly have on the lives of those in her community and her field.
“I started on the first day of the opening of our new campus at Monterey Bay,” said Stephanie. “As the years advanced, and I become more involved in academia through presentations and conferences, I noticed a critical absence of African/African-American/black professors. There was a critical lack of professors of color who were doing research and presentations on issues that were vitally important for our communities. I decided to earn my doctorate so I could provide mentorship in the identification, support, and promotion of black scholars and others scholars of color.”
Stephanie’s education has reached far past her three previous degrees—a B.F.A. from Emerson College, an M.A. from San Francisco State University, and an M.F.A. from the University of California, Berkeley—and into hands-on arts education. As a theatre lighting designer, art installer, artist, and a member of socially progressive African/African-American/black and women’s communities in California and throughout the world, she has continually sought real change through organizations such as the Dimension’s Dance Theatre in Oakland, the Purple Moon Dance Project in the Bay area, and Black Moon Theatre Company in New York and Paris.
“I created designs for theater companies that made work focused on social change and collaborative community realization,” said Stephanie. “These artists wanted to change the world, to reflect varied voices and experiences, and to attend to the real needs of marginalized people and social groups. With their shows and exhibitions, we had the ability to bring issues into the public sphere through the opening of individual consciousness.”
One of Stephanie’s own exhibits spurred action from within the public to support those in need. When the Yerba Buena Art Center first opened in San Francisco, she created a piece called Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics, a series of brass mailboxes embedded in the gallery walls. Stephanie instructed those in the gallery to leave a dollar if they had one to spare, or to take a dollar if they were in need, noting that all proceeds would support children’s art programs throughout the city. That night, Stephanie raised several hundred dollars for children’s art programs—and raised awareness of the need for such funding.
Dr. Larry Preston, dean of the UI&U Cohort Ph.D. program, is continually impressed by Stephanie’s ability to connect her studies in social justice and policy to her work within the arts and her community. “What strikes me about Stephanie is that she wants to speak to a whole array of people from different social and cultural backgrounds. She uses her work to bridge gaps and to create understanding.”
In addition to her work as a professor, artist, and community volunteer, Stephanie also serves as the commissioner of the Civic Arts Commission for the city of Berkeley. In her role, she advocates for the inclusion of youth in public art and other creative arts projects.
Stephanie has also been the recipient of several grants from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Gerbode Foundation, the City of Oakland, the DeYoung Museum, and Saint Lawrence University. She is currently an associate professor and co-chair of the Visual and Public Art Department at California State University, Monterey Bay, and is looking forward to completing her doctorate at Union so that she may continue to effect change in her classroom and community.
“One of the most important aspects of this program is the connection between the students in the cohorts. It has been a privilege to learn so much from discussions, disagreements, and shared ideals during these past two years. After obtaining three other degrees, I finally feel as though I am in an environment that welcomes my endeavor to change my corner of the world.”