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School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Focus: Fall 2018

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Meet the New Faculty: Drawing, Painting and Performance, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, and Community Health

David Antonio Cruz, Shan Jiang, and Madina Agénor

An accomplished group of new faculty take to the Hill this fall. Below, three from Arts and Sciences share their work and stories.

The Sound of Silence

The portfolio of David Antonio Cruz, professor of the practice at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts, defines the term “interdisciplinary”. His latest works include paintings inspired by Sonnets of Dark Love, the last poems by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, in an exhibition titled “wegivesomuchandgivenothingatall, paintings for richard” and an upcoming operatic piece based on Irish revolutionary Roger Casement’s Black Diaries.

David Antonio Cruz
David Antonio Cruz,
Professor of the Practice of Drawing
and Painting, SMFA at Tufts

Cruz has a passion for revealing untold history: of black and Latino race, underground queer culture, and an overarching silence that demands to be broken. Growing up queer, making art was a way to have voice and be able to express myself,” says Cruz. “I developed my own language that didn’t involve speaking.” His innovative and creative expression earned him degrees at the Pratt Institute and Yale University; shows across the U.S., Caribbean, and Europe, including the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery; and numerous awards, fellowships, and residencies.

This summer Cruz has been busy preparing for back-to-back exhibitions and performances, as well as his new post on the Hill. “Tufts is an amazing research institution in a culturally rich city,” says Cruz. “The SMFA has an incredible interdisciplinary program. It is exactly how I think about my practice, how I produce, research, think, and teach.”

Students in his Introduction to Figure Painting course can expect a 360-degree existential exploration of the body: studying gesture, the history of the human figure in past and present, and how the world discusses and interprets its movement and intention. That same interdisciplinary and global lens will apply to all of his courses, Cruz adds. “We’re looking at the work beyond Western ideas.”

Building the Future

Assistant professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Shan Jiang says her fascination with the field began while she was an undergraduate at Peking University. Studying in Beijing, a metropolis of nearly 22 million people—as opposed to Boston’s 4.8 million or even L.A.’s 13 million—Jiang was faced with the growing suffocation of traffic congestion, rising skyscrapers, and worsening air pollution. 

Shan Jiang
Shan Jiang,
Assistant Professor, Department of
Urban and Environmental Policy 
and Planning

“I was puzzled as to how I could find a healthy solution to this development,” says Jiang.

A Ph.D. program at MIT helped her discover a multidisciplinary approach that bridges data science with urban planning—to design responsive policies for smart, sustainable, and resilient cities. But everything hinged on quality data. Take Boston, whose last civilian travel surveys were conducted in 1991 and 2010.

She wondered, how do you build the future on decades-old information?

The answer was in millions of purses and back pockets. Think about your phone and its apps. When Jiang worked for the Singapore MIT Research Alliance, cell phone service providers gave anonymous usage data to the city to simulate its development. Jiang used the data to predict the best trajectory for city planning. She hopes to do the same in Medford, where developers have begun shaving back the landscape to build a new MBTA station, and in Everett, where a new casino is currently in the works.

Turning the Tide

It might be obvious that it’s much harder for queer women, women of color, and transgender individuals to receive sexual and reproductive healthcare. But Madina Agénor, the inaugural Gerald R. Gill Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Health, wants to understand why—and turn the tide.

Madina Agénor
Madina Agénor,
Gerald R. Gill Assistant Professor,
Department of Community Health

As an undergraduate student at Wellesley College, Agénor spoke with women in a rural community in Costa Rica about the sexual and reproductive health issues that were most pressing to them, HIV/AIDS and intimate partner violence, and the social factors that shaped them—poverty and gender inequality. “It opened my eyes,” she said. “Up until then, I had thought about women’s health mostly in biological terms. But this experience allowed me to see that there was a broader social context to women’s health issues.”

When she returned to the U.S., Agénor took courses in gender studies and community health, making myriad connections between the two. In her Master of Public Health program at Columbia, she layered sexuality onto the study of gender and health; in her doctoral program at Harvard, racial/ethnic inequality.

Today, she’s leading the SHARE (Sexual Health and Reproductive Experiences) Lab at Tufts, where professors and students collaborate to identify how individuals’ identities influence various sexual and reproductive health outcomes, everything from cervical cancer screenings to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations to contraceptive use.

“The goal is to identify and then go beyond the numbers, to understand a person’s lived experiences and come up with real solutions that will help,” she said. “I love that Tufts is focused on student learning through both teaching and engaging undergrads in research. The students seem to have the energy and passion to take in knowledge and then take action.”

As for filling the shoes of Gerald Gill, one of Tufts’ most iconic history professors, Agénor says she read everything about him that she could get her hands on and hopes to carry on his legacy. “The more I learned about him, the humbler I felt,” she said. “I feel a sense of responsibility to follow the path he set for what educators should be like—engaged, generous, and forward thinking.”