Social-Cultural Quantum Optics at a Predominantly White University: Refusing, Rebuffing and Undoing Racism through Collective Experiential Observation


  • Elizabeth L. Sweet University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon Temple Univesity
  • Karen M. Turner Temple University
  • Elisabeth Fornaro Temple University



diversity equity and inclusion, social cultural quantum optics, arts, racial optics, undoing racism, visceral methods, speakout


Racism is commonly defined as prejudice plus power, but in some contexts it can be practiced as a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion. These issues have been at the forefront of popular culture and academic research for some time now, but one could argue, interest has exploded in the U.S. consciousness since May of 2020 and the video recording of the extra-judicial killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, mirroring that of Philando Castile four years earlier in the same city. In this paper we document the ways diversity, equity and inclusion are perceived, and how those perceptions render racism (un)visible. Within this context, we introduce a framework we are calling social-cultural quantum optics (SQO). With data from two large diversity symposia at a university on the east coast that is more diverse than many coupled with our experiences at three art exhibits, we begin to construct a path unlocking small scale, quantum, determinants of racism. We argue that understanding SQO can undo its links to racism on everyday life in cities and communities where universities are located, while at the same time urging the use collective experiential observation of artistic expression to aid in data analysis.

Author Biographies

Elizabeth L. Sweet, University of Massachusetts Boston

Assistant Professor Urban Planning and Community Development, and Africana Studies

An expert in planning theory and qualitative research methodologies, Elizabeth L. Sweet teaches in the Urban Planning and Community Development Program and the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Professor Sweet engages in collaborative community economic development with a focus on the links between economies, violence, and identities. Using feminist, anti-racist and decolonial frameworks, her work in U.S. Native, Black, Latino and Latin American communities has led to long term collaborations and inclusive projects that both push the boundaries of planning theory and methods while at the same time provides practical planning interventions. In recent publications she has proposed the use of body map storytelling and community mapping as innovative ways to co-create data and strategies with communities on a wide range of issues and urban problems. Theoretically, these methods create awareness that enables planners and communities to re-envision their relationships with environments and see their visceral, historical, and spiritual bonds. These new understandings promote new practices. Her most recent project is focused on Afromexicans and Native erasure and the ways that Anti Black/Native narratives impact Mexicans/Chicanos in U.S. cities. Professor Sweet has also been very active in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within university settings through organizing events, student recruitment, and publishing both research and teaching articles on the same.

Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, Temple Univesity

Associate Professor in Theater Studies and Playwriting

PhD (Cultural Anthropology), MA (Anthropology), MFA (Theater), Graduate Certificate) Women's Studies, BA (Journalism); is an Associate Professor of Urban Theater and Community Engagement. Recipient of the 2013 Associate Provosts for the Arts Grant; a 2008 Research and Creative Seed Grant Co-recipient, a 2003 Provost's Arts Commission Grant; a 2001 Independence Foundation Theater Communications Group Grant, the 2000 winner of the PEW Charitable Trust fellowship in scriptwriting, and the 1999, winner of the DaimlerChrysler "Spirit of the Word" National Poetry Competition. Author of Through Smiles and Tears: The History of African American Theater (From Kemet to the Americas) (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011); The Secret Messages in African American Theater: Hidden Meaning Embedded in Public Discourse (Edwin Mellen Publishing, 2006) she has had over twenty-three of her plays produced. Her stage credits include thirteen productions and she is a contributing poet to twenty-six poetry anthologies

Karen M. Turner , Temple University

Karen M. Turner is an associate professor, a former department chair, past president of the Faculty Senate and currently director of Temple University’s Academic Center on Research in Diversity (ACCORD).

Turner’s publication topics include facilitating difficult conversations, her online Race and Racism in the News course offered since 1997, and a mobile media election crowdsourcing project she co-initiated in 2004. She has worked with students covering the 2000 Republican National Convention, 2016 Democratic National Convention, 2020 New Hampshire primary and has three-times led the KleinGO award-winning international reporting program to South Africa.

Turner is the 2021 recipient of Temple’s highest teaching recognition, The Great Teacher award. She has also received the Provost’s Outstanding Faculty Service Award, the Lindback Foundation Distinguished Teaching award and the Klein College Innovative Teaching award. In 2016, she was appointed a Teaching Faculty Fellow in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

A member of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Standing Committee on Teaching, Turner wrote the first chapter of Master Class that explores best teaching practices.

Turner has degrees from Dartmouth College, Northwestern University School of Law and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Elisabeth Fornaro, Temple University

Elisabeth (Lis) G. Fornaro holds her PhD in Urban Education from Temple University, her Masters in Elementary Education from Chestnut Hill College, and her English as a Second Language Program Specialist Certificate from Temple University.

She has worked at Temple University’s College of Education and The Academic Center on Research in Diversity at Temple University (ACCORD). Her contributions to this research occurred while she was working at ACCORD. Her dissertation “‘It’s Like Professional Food’: Sustaining Educators Through Service-Learning” won the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE) 2018 Dissertation of the Year award. She has also served on the IARSLCE Board as president of the IARSLCE Graduate Student Network.

Lis’s work has consistently focused on K12 and higher education in Philadelphia. Prior to pursuing her doctorate, she was a K12 educator in Philadelphia. Currently, she is a Research Specialist at the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Research and Evaluation (ORE) and is also a member of the School District of Philadelphia’s Equity Coalition. Her areas of expertise include community partnerships; service-learning and community engagement; teacher preparation, support, retention; diversity and inclusion; and qualitative methods.


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