An Eastern Kentucky University faculty member internationally known for her research linking diversity-related issues to the gaming culture has been selected to serve as an MLK visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the entire 2016-17 academic year.
Dr. Kishonna Gray, author of “Race, Gender and Deviance on Xbox Live” and frequently sought by media for her expertise, will teach classes, speak at forums, participate in seminars and conferences as she continues to work on her second book, “Punishing Blackness in Digital Culture.” MIT selected only six educators for its MLK program.
Gray, an assistant professor in EKU’s School of Justice Studies, is “deeply engaged with diversity issues in both her research and her role as an educator,” said Dr. T.L. Taylor, professor of comparative media studies/writing at MIT, who nominated Gray for the prestigious position. “She does fantastic work that explores race, gender and intersectionality within new media. It is some of the most original, field-building work I’ve encountered, and she is gaining tremendous momentum in developing this much-needed sector of research.
“She is clearly establishing herself as the go-to person on key issues around race, gender and critical studies of new media (and) building a strong reputation as someone who does specific domain research but leverages that work into broader conversations, both scholarly and public. Her insights and experience will be a tremendous benefit not only to (MIT) faculty and staff, but I anticipate her experience having a tremendous resonance with many of our students.”
Gray is the founder and director of a critical gaming lab on the top floor of the Stratton Building, home to EKU’s nationally renowned College of Justice & Safety. By playing games featuring images and portrayals they might have previously taken for granted with little reflection, Eastern criminal justice students come to think more openly and critically about their own biases and how games often present women and minorities in an unflattering light.
“Our students need to understand diverse populations,” she said last year. “Video games are a good place to begin to look at these issues.”
The EKU professor said she is excited at the prospect of joining “some of the most elite thinkers in the world. And there is so much amazing stuff happening with gaming and gaming culture at MIT. I think this is the most appropriate time for me to be there soaking all that knowledge up to help propel the field further.”
While on the Cambridge campus, Gray plans to continue teaching EKU courses via distance technology. “For instance, I will have class at the Media Lab. Students will read the research and see the amazing projects that researchers are engaged in. This will have such a huge impact on our students. They essentially will be taking a class at MIT. I even envision hosting ‘digital brown-bags’ to share my experiences to the larger campus.”
Gray, who joined the EKU faculty in 2011, is supported in her research for her next book by a Presidents Fellows Award at EKU.
“The project explores media, identity and culture,” Gray said, “so being able to take advantage of the resources and people who work in these areas is amazing. These will operate in tandem and will really raise my research profile as well as EKU’s stature in research.”
Gray earned her bachelor's degree from Eastern in 2005 and her master’s degree in 2007 and returned to the Richmond campus after earning her Ph.D. degree at Arizona State University.
“EKU is my family,” she said. “I love this place. I want to give back all I can, to summarize (President Emeritus) Doug Whitlock, because I got there from here. And, of course, I embody President Benson’s motto. Ask anyone. I make no little plans. I do it big wherever and however I can.”
As MIT will soon find out.
Gray is a featured blogger and podcaster with “Not Your Mama’s Gamer” (www.nymgamer.com/). She also actively blogs on her own websites at www.kishonnagray.com and at lachezbippy.kinja.com. Follow her on Twitter @KishonnaGray and the Critical Gaming Lab @CriticalGameLab.