A new research project at UNCG aims to leverage VR tech and design skills to raise social justice awareness. Funded internally, the project brings members of UNCG’s interior architecture and computer science departments together with experts from the community.
Professor Asha Kutty in UNCG Interior Architecture, Professor Regis Kopper in UNCG Computer Science, and Dr. Deborah Barnes, a Senior Research Associate for the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, lead the project, which was recently awarded a grant from the UNCG Community-Engaged Pathways and Partnerships Program.
Their project will focus on the development of virtual reality walkthroughs that recreate select museum and memorial space designs created in one of Dr. Kutty’s Interior Architecture classes. The designs convey the context and honor the story of Eugene Hairston, a Guilford County lynch victim during the Segregation era.
The VR walkthroughs will be created and housed at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in downtown Greensboro, NC, as part of an initiative by the Guilford County Remembrance Project GCRP, to engage in knowledge generation and healing around the topics of lynching in the United States.
Research conducted across several disciplines, the team leaders say, has demonstrated that immersive media can increase empathy, which is a prerequisite to social justice and healing. With this understanding, VR technology can be used as an effective tool not only to critique structural racism and document social injustices through the students’ designs, but to also foster the kinds of empathy, compassion, and solidarity necessary to facilitate positive social change.
In addition to having the opportunity to engage in the immersive experience, local high school students will collaborate with UNCG student mentors in discussions and problem-solving.
The project is part of Guilford County’s ongoing efforts to reclaim a copy of its lynching marker from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL. This memorial was created in dedication.
Photo: Dr. Kutty and Dr. Kopper (left) and their students previously collaborated on a virtual walkthrough of Greensboro’s Magnolia House, a former “Green Book” hotel that provided lodging known to be safe for African American travelers during the Jim Crow era.