About

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It all started when…

Drawing strength from family roots stretching from Baltimore to Heidelberg, Vanessa Roberts is a community-based researcher, facilitator, and artivist currently based in Denver, Colorado.  The term “artivist” refers to an intentional combination of the arts, activism, and academic practice. In Vanessa’s work all three are equally valued as each informs and influences the other. As a performance artist, activist, and scholar, re-infusing opportunities for artistic engagement into educational environments and community programs aligns her personal experiences, values and beliefs, with her professional pursuits. 

Vanessa firmly believes in the power of performance to open new spaces for learning and connection. Whether teaching at the collegiate level or facilitating a workshop, her presentations are interwoven with humor, personal stories and a love of social justice. The crux of her work is held together by a steady belief in the power of story and self-expression tools for transformative social change.

The interdisciplinary nature of her academic career combined with a vested interest in place-based community change and a knack for working with youth, provides a solid foundation her for developing career as an activist with academic credentials – a scholar with street cred.

Vanessa received her Bachelors of Arts from Colorado College in 2008 where she designed her own Liberal Arts and Science major entitled Critical Race Theory: Emphasis Performance Comedy, and minored in American Cultural Studies.  Her major was based in the Philosophy and Drama/Dance departments, but pulled its curriculum from various academic areas including Sociology, Gender Studies and English. She went on to receive her Masters of Arts in Performance Studies from the Tisch School of Art at New York University in 2009, where her focus was on racial and ethnic performativity in the wake of the African diaspora.

Currently, much of her time is absorbed with her doctoral pursuit and teaching/research duties in the Department of Sociology and the School of Education at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Her speciality areas as an academic are race & ethnicity, cultural sociology, and youth development. She anticipates completing her doctorate in the summer of 2019.

In addition, Vanessa selectively speaks, trains, and performs nationally, traveling to an array of educational institutions, conferences, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Her presentations are interactive, engaging, and memorable. 

 
 
 

Workshops & Performances

Overview of Logistics

  • Run time: 90 minutes per session [Can be reconfigured to meet alternate time needs or broken up over multiple shorter sessions]
  • Tech Needs: Access to projector and audio
  • Space Needs: Flexible (if the space allows it, more physical movement will be incorporated)
 
 
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 Afropuff Lederhosen - Experience The Difference Humor Makes

This workshop is designed around Ms. Roberts' satirical lecture project, Afropuff Lederhosen: What Happens When You Take a Black Baby and Raise it to be German,followed by tips and examples regarding the incorporation of humor into difficult discussions. With a focus on combining theory with personal, subjective and humorous storytelling, this workshop provides tips and examples designed to take conversations to the next level. Also covered is a clever breakdown of themes raised in the piece and an introduction to Critical Race Theory through personal narrative (institutionalization of knowledge and racial systems; creation of race; Eurocentric beauty standards;self-affirming identity; etc.). This workshop includes handouts and detailed activities aimed at promoting conversation and dialogue focused on our personal relationship to difference and otherness, and a reading list for further study detailing sources as they relate to the topics raised in the workshop.

 Afropuff Lederhosenis also available as a keynote lecture  which encourages the audience to re-think racial and social norms. Ripe with humor and true stories, this lecture makes race personal and promotes reflection and further discussion among audience members. The lecture also covers a brief introduction to Critical Race Theory and touches upon the themes mentioned in the workshop description listed above. 

 
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Beyond Boxes - Voicing the Multiracial Experience

Interest and awareness of multiracial identity continues to grow in the media and is beginning to take root in educational settings. However, multiracial individuals are still often classified as "racial others" who do not fit into neatly proscribed categories of race, leading to instances of forced "monoracialization" and/or a sense of invisibility.  Weaving personal stories into the history of the emergence of multiracial persons in America as a visible group, Vanessa Roberts seeks to highlight the relationship between “racial others” and dominant narratives produced by America’s racial history. This workshop celebrates the richness of blended heritage and the power that comes from existing betwixt and between. What pressure do non-traditional forms of identification place on mono-racial categories? What stereotypes persist regarding ingrained social beliefs which this multi-racial movement either explodes or enforces? As the population identifying as “mixed” increases with each census report, what are the implications for those committed to taking action and working towards a more equitable society?  As a performance artist and educator, Ms. Roberts infuses this workshop with several theatrical elements to keep the conversation engaging, thought-provoking and illuminating. 

 
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Breaking the Blinders – How a Colorblind Ideology Reinforces Injustice

Colorblindness (the claim to not “see” color or race) is a perspective gaining in popularity in contemporary society. This workshop lays out the history of when this ideology emerged, its development, and current incarnations. In addition, we will explore how colorblindness supports and sustains ideological/institutional/interpersonal racism. To be colorblind is to willfully ignore the ramifications of race – are you ready to learn how to break the blinders and work towards a more just society?

 

 
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Cultural Code-Switching 101

Codeswitching is something we all do, whether we are conscious of it, or not. But what is codeswitching and why does it matter? The term originally derives from linguistics (specifically to refer to mixing languages in conversation), but this presentation invites us to look at code-switching more broadly. Participants are asked to consider codeswitching as a cultural phenomenon while reflecting on personal experiences. To build your cultural dexterity requires conscious effort to become aware of how you engage with others and how we all modify our behavior according to cultural codes. This awareness helps empower participants to examine the climate within their own community settings (school/workplace/etc.), and further determine how to work towards being inclusive of a diverse array of backgrounds and perspectives. 

 
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Engaging Future Leaders

How do you show up for youth in your community? Are you an ally or advocate? Do you ever get caught in a “savior” mentality? Youth empowerment and voice is something many adults are interested in, but not all of us manage to do it well. This is often caused by internalized biases and our complicated relationships with privilege and oppression. This workshop will introduce attendees to youth action civics through YPAR (youth-participatory-action-research) as a means for shifting the dial on how youth and adults come together for the work of social justice. Putting the tools of research into the hands of young folks, while developing equitable youth-adult partnerships, is another way to increase the super powers of our super youth. This workshop pulls from Vanessa's dissertation project and her experience as a member of the Critical Civic Inquiry Research group.

 
 
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How I Found Out I Was Black

In order to create a difference head-space in which to approach the topic of identity construction, this workshop begins with a live delivery of Mr. Roberts' performance piece,How I Found Out I Was Black. Discussion-based small group activities designed to stimulate personal reflection on participant’s own relationship to racial and ethnic difference follow performance. The conversation is then expanded to include consideration of the other forms of difference and “othering” which we encounter in our daily lives. This workshop includes handouts which help guide the activities and provide a framework for participants to return to on own their time. Also included is a reading list for further study detailing sources as they relate to the topics raised in the workshop.

 
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Inclusive Classrooms - Moving from theory to practice

Interested in the buzzwords flying around campus including and related to "inclusive excellence"? Wondering what it might mean to incorporate these ideas into your classroom? This workshop will include discussions of identity and positionality and their impact on educational practice, while also introducing practical tips, tricks, and strategies participants can directly apply in their own classrooms. The goal is to support the creation of educational spaces that foster inclusion and support student learning. Covering topics from course design to pedagogy, the content is applicable to our work as educators across disciplines and specialties. Relevant for graduate student instructors and experienced faculty members.

 
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Identity Theatrics Workshop

What does it mean to be the ‘other’ or to mark someone as such? How do we all create the ‘other’ in our everyday choices and what power lies in recognizing our own ‘other-ness’? This workshop explores these questions in relation to privilege while asking participants to consider re-scripting their commitment to present cultural narratives about identity. Utilizing a vast array of theater techniques, Vanessa invites participants to play with these concepts in order to gain a larger vision of the significance of the “us vs. them” dynamic in the work of identity construction. This workshop guides participants into a deeper understanding of the personal investment required for truly transformational change when working towards social justice and provides an introduction to key vocabulary and themes.

 
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Power of Performance - Fusing Art and Activism

Creating and sustaining community is a nuanced endeavor, one often facilitated by a genuine sense of connection among its members, be it to a common cause or a shared affiliation. But how do we build genuine relationships which strengthen communities and engender transformative social change? In addition to a brief introduction to various forms of arts-based social justice activism, this workshop also includes instruction and engagement in a variety of theatrical exercises and activities which demonstrate the applicability of theatrical techniques in social justice projects. Participants will leave with a new set of tools intended to assist their efforts within their own communities, and a clearer understanding of how "who" you are matters when it comes to building community. (Space for movement required for this session.)

Vanessa Roberts is a visionary whose dynamic, incisive, and sometimes hilarious presentation on Code Switching allows the audience to better bridge the gaps between the racial, economic, and cultural difference that both divide and bind our society. In my Career and Technology Education (CTE) classrooms, I have used Vanessa’s presentation as an entry point for students to understand the contrast between everyday and professional communication and the way to successfully navigate between both worlds. Vanessa has an innate ability to engage students and is always one of my most popular presenters.
— Nate Green, Program Director, Bringing Back the Arts Program

Incredible! Vanessa was a hit with our group. She easily understood the context of the group and worked with everyone in a manner that was inclusive and thought-provoking, prompting dialogue and understanding. I’ll definitely work with her again.
— Susan Edmondson, Executive Director, Bee Vradenburg Foundation

I appreciated the risk the presenter took in opening herself and sharing her story. It was a great example of how humor can be used to facilitate a discussion of a serious topic.
— Non-Profit Org. Member, Canadian