Celebrating Professor Matthew Countryman
I was invited by Drs. Laura Schram and Joseph Cialdella of the Rackham Program in Public Scholarship (RPPS) to offer my reflections on Professor Matthew Countryman’s time as Faculty Director of RPPS. Here are my remarks from this celebration event, which took place last month:
What an honour it is to be here, to share my remarks on Professor Matthew Countryman’s contributions and commitments to the Rackham Program in Public Scholarship. As the program’s faculty director, there is so much care and brilliance that Professor Countryman has practiced both visibly and behind the scenes that it’s difficult for me to be brief. I will try.
I met Professor Countryman for the first time five years ago at the 2013 Rackham Arts of Citizenship Summer Institute for Social Change. That experience was also my introduction to the practices and practitioners of public scholarship in the context of southeastern Michigan. The five-day program was nurturing in its capacity to inspire connections across different ideas, domains, and communities of expertise. Equally, it demonstrated for me and my doctoral student peers what shared authorship oriented towards social justice looks like along the campus-community spectrum. Not only was Professor Countryman a key player in bringing work happening on U-M Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn campuses together in dialogue, his commitment to promoting public scholarship at all scales, from citizen science and public policy to arts and culture collaborations and engaged pedagogy allowed students from across the sciences, social sciences, and the humanities to see themselves and their futures in this conversation.
As a colleague, Professor Countryman has been a tremendous joy, a fortifying presence, and a humbling partner to learn from. I worked with him and subsequently with him and Dr. Laura Schram as Rackham Public Humanities Fellow from 2014 to 2016. Throughout this time and beyond, Professor Countryman modeled for us what equity and inclusion truly feels like. At all scales of decision-making, from conception to implementation of the program’s four activities, we were not just equal partners at the table, but also co-instigators in building new connections between campus units, exploring related organizations for paid internships and immersives, and dare I say, “talking back” at regimented administrative demands with thoughtful alternatives every time those demands tried to reduce the program to a simplistic data point.
As a mentor and among the very few faculty of colour in a leadership role within an historically white institution, Professor Countryman spent countless hours meeting with students, listened to our concerns as they relate to public scholarship careers, and connected us to opportunities and networks where we can find community and join hands in solidarity. For example, it was Professor Countryman who introduced me and many of my peers to Imagining America. Having served on its national advisory board, he not only facilitated strategic connections between local and national level conversations, but also served as a faculty guide on our individual projects that interconnected these contexts and communities. Despite his self-effacing presence, Professor Countryman’s scholarship as an historian and related background in community organizing have made the Rackham Program in Public Scholarship a model program and precious community, structuring our scholarly pursuits around critique, generosity, hope, reciprocity, and rigor—sentiments that are at once encouraging and urgent for co-producing new knowledge with reference to socially inclusive futures.
For each of these contributions and more, I cannot thank Professor Matthew Countryman enough today and always. And I wish him all the best for his new leadership role as the Chair of DAAS (Department of Afroamerican and African Studies). We are lucky to have you on this campus, in this community, and in our careers.
(Image: Exhibit at the Arab American National Museum, Institute for Social Change, Summer 2015, Rackham Graduate School – part of the organizing team with Drs. Laura Schram and Matthew Countryman)