Questions That Matter public humanities series to explore 'Freedom and Race'

freedom and race banner uc santa cruz humanities
UC Santa Cruz Dean of Humanities Tyler Stovall
UC Santa Cruz Dean of Humanities Tyler Stovall
history of art and visual culture professor Jennifer González
History of Art and Visual Culture professor Jennifer González
The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz will present Freedom & Race—the fourth installment of its signature Questions That Matter series—on Tuesday, January 30, at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in downtown Santa Cruz.

The evening will feature a conversation with UC Santa Cruz humanities dean Tyler Stovall and history of art and visual culture professor Jennifer González, moderated by history professor and Humanities Institute director Nathaniel Deutsch.

The Questions That Matter series is designed to bring together UC Santa Cruz faculty with community residents and students to explore the big questions that matter to everyone. It is part of a strategic initiative of The Humanities Institute (formerly called the Institute for Humanities Research) to champion the role and value of the humanities in contemporary life.

“We initially made our decision to focus our next event on freedom and race because Dean Stovall is writing a book that explores different aspects of this very timely topic,” Deutsch noted. “Since we decided to focus on this theme, current events such as what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, have only convinced us more how important it is to grapple with the subject right now.”

Deutsch added that the panelists will discuss the different—and at times, competing—understandings of freedom.

“Freedom has always been a core aspect of America's national identity and, yet, from the very beginning of the country's history, members of different groups have had more or less freedom depending on their race, gender, or class. How do we grapple with this contradiction?”

“Today, universities around the country are struggling with their commitment to free speech, on the one hand, and demands—often from students—that speakers deemed racist should not be given a campus forum, on the other,” he added. “How should universities navigate these competing demands, especially at such a politically fraught time?”

Dean Stovall noted that his book project is about the intersections of race and liberty in modern history, exploring the ways in which ideas of freedom are racialized. 

“I am writing a study titled White Freedom: the Racial History of an Idea, that takes a broad historical overview of the relationship between race and freedom in the modern era,” said Stovall. “Although the perspective is global, I focus in particular on the histories of France and the United States, not only the two nations I am most familiar with, but also countries for whom the idea of liberty lies at the heart of their national identities.” 

“In this study I argue against the notion that racial thinking is a paradox of free peoples, rather than our very ideas of liberty are racialized, shaped by the racial histories of the modern era.” 

The book is forthcoming from Princeton University Press. 

Deutsch noted that the impact of the The Humanities Institute’s Questions That Matter series will be enhanced by a recent $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“The Mellon grant has provided us with crucial support to reimagine what the humanities can be at the university by linking our curriculum, research, and training of students with public programming and community outreach,” said Deutsch.

“Our goal with this event is to bring experts from the university to the community to share their perspectives, to encourage a public conversation on a topic that should matter to all of us, and to help attendees come away with a more nuanced perspective on something that has vexed our nation from its founding,” he added.


Questions That Matter: “Freedom & Race” takes place on Tuesday, January 30, at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz. Doors open at 6 p.m. for Wine & Hors d' oeuvres. The program begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15, including one complimentary drink. For more information, call (831) 459-5655 or email This event is presented by The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz.