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Spotlight on Visiting Scholars:

Play by Dr. Donna Jackson Dramatizes Research on Impact of Asbestos

Picture of Donna Jackson and student actors
Photo credit: Jenny Dunn.
Pictured: Maria Gennuso, Amelia Merrick, Sophie Waldman, Donna Jackson, Christine Balt, Megan Slater, and Rebecca Houpt
In the fall of 2017, OISE hosted Dr. Donna Jackson, an Australian-based researcher and artist, through OISE's Visiting Scholars Funding Program. Dr. Jackson is known for her work over the past three decades as a director of arts projects and, more recently, as the author and director of Dust, a play which dramatizes her research on the devastating impact of asbestos on the health and lives of Australians.
During her time at OISE, Dr. Jackson worked closely with students in Professor Tara Goldstein's Performed Ethnography and Research-Informed Theatre course to direct a performance of excerpts from Dust at a packed, standing-room only event focusing on the dangers of asbestos exposure. The evening opened with a talk from Dr. Eudice Goldberg, co-founder of the Canadian Mesothelioma Foundation (CMF), which provided a Canadian context for the global public health issue. Until 2011, Canada was one of the world's largest minors and exporters of asbestos. The potential for asbestos exposure continues to require a national public health strategy; older homes and buildings are asbestos-filled, and only one fibre of asbestos can potentially cause cancer. 
In raising awareness about the dangers and omnipresence of asbestos within the wider OISE community, this event demonstrated performed ethnography as an effective teaching tool. Professor Goldstein notes that performed ethnography effectively mobilizes specialized research to reach a wider audience beyond academia. "Donna did serious research and worked with a whole team of talented artists to incorporate her findings through interviews into extremely well-crafted performance," said Professor Goldstein. 
Students participating in the performance attested to the impact of the experience on their teaching theory and methodology. They noted that drama can serve as an effective agent for social change. In creating empathy and connecting both students and teachers with curriculum on a personal level, theatre can be uniquely transformative. 
Following the dramatic presentation, the audience had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with Dr. Jackson, Dr. Goldberg, Professor Goldstein, and the performers. The liveliness of the discussion attested to the effectivity of Dust in presenting research in an engaging and compelling way.
Funding for the Visiting Scholar Program is provided by the Office of the Associate Dean, Research, International, and Innovation.