Three Professors Win Marcus Transformative Research Award for 2020-21

Awardees from left to right: Julie Paulson, Nick Sousanis, and Venise Wagner


Written by Matt Itelson

The College of Liberal & Creative Arts’ Marcus Transformative Research Awards will support three professors’ research in topics spanning a graphic novel, structural racism, and disability.

The award is made possible by the George and Judy Marcus Funds for Excellence in the Liberal Arts, which was established in 2018 with a $25-million gift to SF State. Jewish Studies Professor Kitty Millet was the inaugural winner last year.

Julie Paulson

People with disabilities fight prejudice when they perform in front of others, a concept that English Language and Literature Professor Julie Paulson will explore in her book. “Intelligence and Intelligibility” examines portrayals of intelligence and people with intellectual disabilities in modern and postmodern literature, connecting them to 21st-century society. She hopes the book helps people with intellectual disabilities become more visible socially and politically, with a focus on higher education.

Paulson’s research will include self-advocacy work with students in SF State’s Inclusion Program for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which she co-founded.

Nick Sousanis

Humanities and Liberal Studies Associate Professor Nick Sousanis will create a companion piece to “Unflattening” (Harvard University Press), his critically acclaimed scholarly dissertation in graphic-novel form.

Under the working title “Nostos” — Greek for the journey home — the new comic intends to inspire people to practice their thinking with a crayon.

“How might we envision returning to the mindset where drawing isn’t something encountered with fear,” Sousanis asks, “but with the openness, we once enjoyed as children, when we made drawings, sang, and danced without the paralysis of self-doubt?”

His deeply intricate, detailed drawing pushes the boundaries of comics: A 22-page sequence in “Nostos” can be read as traditional double-page spreads or opened to one 15-foot-long image.

Venise Wagner

Journalism Professor Venise Wagner will dig into her family tree in “The Stars Through Their Eyes,” as a way to examine structural racism in America.

The book will use the 130-year story of Wagner’s family to clarify how laws, policies, and practices have led to persistent wealth disparities among African Americans. She will travel to Arkansas, where her family owned a farm. Wagner’s great, great-grandfather bought it in the 1870s from his former enslaver.

The book will be targeted at a general audience, arming the average citizen with knowledge of how to dismantle racist structures.

“Greater understanding of structural racism from the general public leads to the greater agency in the democratic process,” Wagner said.

For more information about donating to the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, contact:

Soo Kim ( She/Her/Hers )
Senior Director of Development (Creative Arts)
College of Liberal and Creative Arts
(415) 338-7113
Bonnie Feinberg ( She/Her/Hers )
Senior Director of Development (Humanities)
College of Liberal & Creative Arts
(415) 338-6363