Jaden Janak is a Ph.D. student studying African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS). They have served as a teaching assistant (TA) for two Undergraduate Studies Courses: Difficult Dialogues: Gender, Race, Policing and Incarceration; and UGS 303: Blackness and Mass Incarceration.
Janak was selected by the Faculty Innovation Center as one of five exceptional UT graduate students chosen from a pool of talented applicants to share their stories and insights about teaching on Friday, March 26 from 9-11 a.m. via Zoom. RSVP.
Where are you from, and what are you studying at UT?
I am from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I am studying African and African Diaspora Studies.
What brought you to UT? Was it a particular program, department, professor, etc?
I am a lifelong Texas football fan. I was born in San Antonio, so UT has always been in my heart. When it became time for graduate school, I was scouring the internet trying to find Black Studies programs to which I should apply. I found the UT Austin program rather late in the process, and I decided to shoot my shot. AADS’ focus on Black Queer Studies and activism brought me here.
Tell us a little bit about your research as a Ph.D. student.
My dissertation research focuses on contemporary experiments in abolition. Specifically, I am examining how four abolitionist organizations are building an abolitionist future in the present by building on the past. During my ‘free time,’ I am researching the connections between slavery in Austin, building the carceral state in Texas, and UT Austin in the contemporary moment.
Can you tell us about the two UGS classes you have been a TA for and how they tie in with your studies?
I have had the great pleasure to TA for two UGS courses that place race and policing as central topics. I consider myself to be a co-learner with the students in our classes. My thinking has been pushed by my students in both UGS 303 and the Difficult Dialogues course. Because of my students, I am thinking about how sound, art, and music have historically and contemporarily played a role in building anti-carceral worlds.
Did you gain any new insight from working with the professors of these two classes?
In the Difficult Dialogues class, Dr. Christen Smith pushes us to consider how policing is a transnational interconnected project. Likewise, movements against carcerality are connected across geographical contexts. For example, the Movement for Black Lives is necessarily tied to movements against police repression in Brazil like Reaja ou Sera Morta (React or Die!). In Dr. Walter’s Signature Course on Blackness and Mass Incarceration, his provocation to consider the role of time in carceral expansion has prompted my idea about abolition as a time-bending project—abolition is a future-based project being built in the present that is deeply rooted in the past.