Salamishah Tillet and Jack Tchen
Toggle caption Photo by Fred Stucker

New Leadership Coming to the Clement A. Price Institute

After an extensive national search, RU-N is happy to announce that it has named not one, but two world-class scholars to lead the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience.

In November 2014, RU-N experienced a profound loss when beloved Professor Clement A. Price died suddenly and unexpectedly. Price was a professor of U.S. History and African American Studies and founded what was then the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, which became a national model for how public research universities engage the community through arts and humanities programming. 

After Price’s death, RU-N made his legacy permanent by endowing the Institute, renaming it to bear his name, and by creating an endowed chair in Price's name to be filled by the next director. 

John Kuo Wei (Jack) Tchen, who specializes in American and Asian American History at NYU, has been named the Inaugural Clement A. Price Chair in Public History and the Humanities and will take over as the Institute’s new director. Salamishah Tillet, who teaches English and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and is a leading thinker on the relationship between art and social justice, will become associate director. 

Both are renowned scholars who have been deeply inspired by Price’s work, connect with his mission, and bring extensive experience in public humanities and arts to the Price Institute. 

“In Jack Tchen and Salamishah Tillet, we have hired two extraordinary scholars and public intellectuals who are at the forefront of public history and the humanities, and, like Clem, are warm, inspiring people who are engaged scholars and citizens,” says Jan Ellen Lewis, Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences-Newark. “This is an important first step in building on Clem’s incredible legacy, and I know he would be proud.” 

Tchen, who will lead the Price Institute and be on the faculty of RU-N’s History department, is a teacher, historian, curator, and cultural organizer who works with the fragments of lives and communities "silenced" and "disappeared" from historical narratives and brings them back into public dialogue and presence. He is founding director of the Asian/Pacific/American (A/P/A) Studies Program and Institute at NYU, and was part of the founding faculty of the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis there. He also co-founded the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City, where he continues to serve as a senior historian, and has been building research collections of Asians in the Americas for more than three decades.  
Tchen was awarded the Charles S. Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities and in 2012 received the NYU MLK Jr Humanitarian Award. He is currently co-chairing the effort at the Smithsonian Institution to form an Asian Pacific American Center and served on New York City’s Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers.   

He is the author of the award-winning books New York before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882 and Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown, 1895-1905.  

I’ve known Clem for 20 years and have a deep respect for his work in New Jersey and nationally. So, for me to be the Inaugural Chair and Director of the Institute that bears his name is an incredible honor. I look forward to working with the numerous scholars there who are doing groundbreaking work.

“I’ve known Clem for 20 years and have a deep respect for his work in New Jersey and nationally,” says Tchen. “So, for me to be the Inaugural Chair and Director of the Institute that bears his name is an incredible honor. Under Chancellor Nancy Cantor, RU-N’s commitment to publicly engaged scholarship is visionary. I look forward to working with the numerous scholars there who are doing groundbreaking work.”  

Salamishah Tillet is a scholar of African American culture whose work is at the intersection of arts and activism. A cultural critic who is a regular contributor to the New York Times Arts & Leisure section, she is currently the Robert S. Blank Presidential Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies and a faculty member of the Alice Paul Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a much sought-after commenter on the politics of artistic expression and a leading thinker on the relationship between art and social justice. In 2003, she co-founded A Long Walk Home, a Chicago-based national non-profit that uses art to educate, inspire, and mobilize young people to end violence against girls and women. 

Tillet has appeared on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and TedxWomen, and has written for The Atlantic, Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, The Nation, The New York Times, The Root, and Time. In 2010 she wrote the liner notes for John Legend and The Roots’ three-time Grammy award-winning album, Wake Up!. In 2013 she published Gloria Steinem: The Kindle Singles Interview for Amazon.  

She is the author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination and co-editor of the Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters Special Issue on Ethiopia. She is currently completing a book called In Search of the Color Purple, a memoir about Alice Walker’s novel, along with a book on civil rights icon Nina Simone.  

In addition to serving as an associate director of the Price Institute, she will be the founding director of the Public Arts and Social Justice Initiative at Express Newark, and will also be training a new generation of cultural critics in RU-N’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. 

"As a resident of the city of Newark, and as a student and a scholar of the Black Arts movement, I think that we're in a compelling and exciting time here in the city and at Rutgers-Newark in particular, to do really innovative, creative and progressive work," says Tillet. "I'm honored and humbled to be part of the process and the journey." 

Tchen and Tillet will take over the Price Institute from Interim Director Mark Krasovic, who succeeded Price after his death. Krasovic will stay on as an Associate Director of the Institute and continue teaching as a faculty member of RU-N’s History department, where he specializes in U.S. cultural and urban history. 

“I can’t imagine a better person to lead the Institute than Jack Tchen, who understands Clem’s work and that of the Institute and has been doing similar things in his career, and who will challenge us to do the work in new ways,” says Krasovic. “Salamishah will also be amazing. By bringing her terrific legacy in arts and social justice, she’ll do an incredible job building on the work we’ve done in public arts and taking it in new directions. We are incredibly fortunate to have them join us, and I look forward to the new energy and vision they’ll bring to the Institute.”