Article by Anya Ventura, Arts at MIT
Editorial Direction by Leah Talatinian, Arts at MIT
In a piece for Arts at MIT, Anya Ventura covers the showcase exhibit and performance of one of Danielle Wood's courses (co-taught with Prof. J. Austin Eyer of Unversity of Texas Arlington), Queer-Feminist-Antiracism and Design for the Future. The article reads in part:
"For Danielle Wood, understanding identity–how experiences of race, gender, sexuality, and ability affect one’s experience of the world–is critical for designing better systems, whether it’s a musical theater show or a spaceship to Mars. These systems, far from being neutral, reflect the biases of society. How could the future be different?
Wood, an assistant professor in the Program in Media Arts & Sciences, leads the Space Enabled research group at the MIT Media Lab, while also holding an appointment in the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics. Her research focuses on how to use the innovative technology developed for space exploration to improve life on earth, particularly in developing countries, and to promote a sustainable environment in space for generations to come.
The new course “Queer-Feminist-Antiracism and Design for the Future,” sponsored by both the MIT Media Lab and the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), is a collaboration between Wood and Austin Eyer, an Assistant Professor in Musical Theatre at the University of Texas at Arlington. Wood and Eyer first met as teenagers at an arts high school in Orlando, Florida. While Wood went on to work for NASA, Eyer performed on Broadway. The idea for the class was hatched during the Covid lockdowns, when they realized while chatting on the phone that some of the challenges faced in their fields were similar.
Just as musical theater needed to better reflect the realities of people of different backgrounds, so too did science and technology need to confront issues of injustice–from creating airports to serve people of different cultures to designing machinery for bodies of all types and sizes. “How do you create and design things in a way that addresses the needs of people, especially when it’s not a secret that some groups in society have gotten more discrimination,” says Wood.
The course, a recipient of a CAST Cross Disciplinary Class Grant and an award from the MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, brought together students from a range of disciplines: computer science, engineering, systems analysis, and earth science, in addition to theater and art, from both MIT and the University of Texas. Each student created their final project based on their specific area of expertise, but all the work, Wood says, was “connected by a grounding in considering identity, race, gender, and culture.” In the course, they discussed how capitalism, colonialism, racism, patriarchy, and heteronormative culture create interlocking systems of oppression, and how art could offer ways to work against these dominant structures."