UCR Graduate Division Opens Science Fiction Program

By Elizabeth Brown, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
November 20, 2013

UCR has introduced a Science Fiction PhD program to the graduate division this year by offering a Designated Emphasis (DE). Professors Sherryl Vint (Media and Cultural Studies), Rob Latham (Literature), and Nalo Hopkinson (Creative Writing) are the three faculty hired by CHASS Dean Stephen Cullenberg specifically for this program. UCR is already host to the Eaton Collection, and this program will strengthen the Sci-Fi presence on campus. The classes started this fall, and currently there are 12 students enrolled. An undergraduate minor is also in the process of being approved, and is poised to premiere in Fall 2014.

This interdisciplinary program focuses on how the world of science fiction seeks to examine and explain the world we live in today, and how it intermingles with reality. Sci-Fi has proven to be an important tool in which reality can be put under a microscope, and the roles that technology and science play in society can be examined for their ethical implications. The program will also seek to “shock us out of our everyday habituated perceptions,” as Vint states, while exploring gender and race issues, colonialism, and global perspectives.

Studies will also focus on cognitive estrangement that Sci-Fi is renowned for being able to display creatively. Through studying alternate realities and technologies effect on society, Vint says Sci-Fi can provide “hopefulness for a critical plan of social change,” and provide the medium for the exploration of new societal paths and open-minded, inclusive thinking. A world without systemic racism or gender norms, for example, can be explored through science fiction, and then translated to reality by helping society expand and evolve their world views.

Sherryl Vint recently spoke during UCR’s Homecoming week on science fiction in television, and how gender and race issues are communicated through this medium. She feels television is a form of mass media that shapes every day, common sense through the perpetuated ideals and experiences shown, and treating Sci-Fi as a “language and tool of its own” is key to understanding the contemporary, scientific and highly technologic reality in which we live. On November 15 there was also a two panel hosted by The Science Fiction Collective Mellon Group, but coordinated entirely by students, entitled The Landscape of Race in Science Fiction. Topics ranged from “indigenous futurism to postcolonial studies to afrofuturism,” and discussed “both its value and the implications it has failed to question within its own assumptions about racial and ethnic difference.”

The new School of Medicine at UCR has reached out to the program, and plans to present a film series on bioethics. This is just one of the many pairings and collaborations that are putting the Sci-Fi program on the map, and allowing it to transform into “the place to be for science fiction studies,” as Vint sees it. The program has partnered with the Culver Center in hopes of getting a grant from the Getty, which they will hear about in a few weeks and have already attained a UCHRI Working Group grant “that is creating partnerships with people interested in science and culture across the UC’s.” Science Fiction PhD program has now officially gone online and more information can be found at sfts.ucr.edu.

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