Alexander Shares Views as New CFA Dean
Bryant Keith Alexander became dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts in July 2012.
Published: August 15, 2012
By LMU Magazine Staff
Bryant Keith Alexander joined LMU as dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts and professor of Communication Studies on July 1, 2012. He has published scores of articles and book chapters dealing with how communication and performance are shaped by culture, race, gender and other interpersonal variables. His forthcoming book is titled “The Performative Sustainability of Race: Reflections on Black Culture and the Politics of Identity.” Alexander was interviewed by Editor Joseph Wakelee-Lynch.
What can a student expect from a college of communication and fine arts in Los Angeles that distinguishes it from a college elsewhere in the country?
A student in communication and fine arts in such a dynamic cultural and business environment as Los Angeles should expect an educational experience informed by critical praxis; a blending/bleeding/bridging of the conceptual and theoretical knowing of the classroom with an embodied/experiential/encounter with Los Angeles; and opportunities to put theory into practice and to expand the boundaries of the classroom using Los Angeles as a living laboratory for critical reflective engagement, professional development, activism and service.
Where will you focus your efforts in the first year as dean?
In entering any new cultural and organizational system, it is always important to take stock of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Such assessments provide everyone with a sense of protections and possibilities. CFA has a wonderful culture of teachers, artists, professionals, scholars and the dynamic students that we are committed to serving. The first year will be a time of discovery — maintaining the best of what we do and beginning to chart new directions of growth, but only after careful consideration and gaining a full sense of the campus, culture and community.
You’ve written about the importance and power of performance in communicating, both for the audience and for the storyteller. What lesson would you share about that power with your CFA students?
The nature of my work often looks at performance in everyday life: performance as a critical lens of exploring human behavior and performance as the mechanism to establish, maintain, and transform culture and the politics of human social engagement that drives the nature of our encounters with each other. To accept the notion of human behavior as performance and performative is to also acknowledge the power of performance and creative expression as a method of cultural illumination, transformation and social conscious-raising. Such logics are at the core of what we do in CFA and thus suture together the interests of our diverse departments and programs.
You’ve published articles about “passing for white.” As a professor of communications, why does passing interest you?
My interest has really been about the social construction of race, and short of the materiality of bodies (meaning color), questioning the performative dimensions of race of which the notion of passing calls attention to. My forthcoming book is evidence of that ongoing exploration.
What are your other areas of academic research and teaching interest, and do you plan to remain an active scholar while being dean?
My academic research often circulates around issues of race, culture, gender and sexuality through the lens of performance, which acknowledges the enacted/engaged/embodied nature of these identity politics as relational. Such interests are also made specific in particular cultural sites such as the classroom, barbershops and film/media representations. I have every intention to continue being an active scholar — which for me means participating in academic conferences, publishing and teaching when possible and always evidencing teaching, service, scholarship and administration as informing practices of academic professionalism.
Speaking not as dean or as professor, what aspect of LMU personally appeals to you?
My work in identity politics tells me that I cannot separate or deviate from the intricacies of my identity as a dean or professor, a man, a black man, and all of those qualities that make me a particular human being, to provide what is assumed to be an objective response to your question. But let me say that LMU appeals to my whole being in its critical attention to a transformative education and social justice.
What makes this the right time or the ripe moment for you to be dean at CFA?
It is a great time at LMU, a time that challenges the limits between possibility and potentiality. The university has just completed a critical reflection on the past 100 years with its eyes on the future in a new strategic plan, a successful capital campaign and the strong leadership of a still new and innovative president. I enter the deanship of CFA with experiences in the disciplines that inform the college with care, vigor and excitement for a collaborative engagement and the spirit of building and expanding community.