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The 2022 Women of UD

R. Darden Bradshaw

R Darden Bradshaw




When Darden Bradshaw says she stands in the gap to hold open spaces so that others’ experiences can be acknowledged and validated, it is not immediately apparent that her strength is used in different capacities. In her role as a faculty co-chair for QDayton, she wants to shed light on inequities across campus and “hold a space for recognizing and celebrating those on campus who identify as LGBTQ+ for the contributions that they bring to our community.” And as a mom to a Black child, Bradshaw wants people to know her daughter’s pain because “she rarely saw herself represented in literature or music in school, or on television or in videos.” And as an artist who has survived the pandemic, she wants to ameliorate the indignity of those “dying alone, away from families, dying without any connection.” She stands in these gaps to hold spaces for all those muted voices.

She chose to make space for the voices of those in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially here at UD, through her scholarship. Her project, “Developing Best Practices to Support Equity for LGBT*Q+ Faculty and Staff at the University of Dayton,” completed as an inaugural fellow for the Gender Equity Research Fellowship (GERF), was published shortly after the onset of the pandemic. “I felt like, in that moment, as our world was shifting under our feet, it was even more necessary and important that the individual voices of those I had interviewed, who had shared their lived experience of being LGBTQ on a Catholic campus, are honored. I wanted to make it really clear that their voices are important.”

She chose to make space for the voices of her daughter and her grandson – “a beautiful Black baby boy in this world, and he’s growing up, but he is perceived as a threat at the age of 5.” Even though Bradshaw has experienced the silencing of her own voice as an LGBTQ+ person in America, “seeing it in someone who was so vulnerable and for whom I had such care and love, it hit me differently and I had to act differently. I made a choice to become more of an activist in my life.”

She chose to make space for the voices of the more than 900,000 Americans who have died thus far from COVID. While listening to a radio news report, she was struck by the realization that the enormous loss of life “had become just a cognitive construct. A very sad, horrific, cognitive construct.” Bradshaw turned to her artistic voice, choosing to work in fiber, “to draw people to a moment of stillness, and to feel that pervasive loss of life.” She describes her work, “Counting Up,” as a body of hand-felted forms, ranging in length from 6 to 8 feet, and from 18 to 28 inches in diameter. Each of Bradshaw’s forms represents 100,000 lost lives. “They look a little bit like cocoons. They look a little bit like shrouds. They look a little bit like bodies.” The wet-felting process is extremely labor-intensive, but because of the scale of the project, Bradshaw found working the felt with her hands to be a form of meditation, like “a prayer for those families who were not able to be with their loved ones as they were passing.” 

While Bradshaw started the forms to count pandemic deaths, she began to think of it, also, as an invitation to the viewer to ask themselves the question, “why do we focus so much on this counting?” Why, she wonders, for hundreds of years, have we not counted the lives lost simply because a person was Black, or transgender, or a boy was wearing a hoodie, or was confronted by police ending with a knee on his neck? She would like the viewer to have “a recognition that counting lives is the same as valuing lives.” 

Bradshaw points out that the pandemic made social inequalities, which we knew existed, far more apparent, but thinks it is imperative “we acknowledge that life, as we now know it, has changed how we relate to one another, how we engage with one another, and how we think about what we’re doing in our careers and in our vocations.” She believes UD is trying to acknowledge these changes, and sees some progress. “Right now, applications are being solicited for the inaugural Office of Diversity and Inclusion LGBTQ Fellow. This position is a perfect representation of one of the ways we can move forward in finding equity, in creating equitable spaces, and in ensuring that not only are we attracting diverse faculty and staff, but we are keeping them.” In her GERF project, Bradshaw recommended that senior leadership create such a position, and although it is open only to faculty or staff with release time rather than a full-time staff position, she says, “it still has the potential to really shift things as we are moving forward.”

As she looks forward, Bradshaw sees herself, “contributing to the progress by showing up every day, holding the gaps for those whose voice is not acknowledged, supporting those struggling to articulate their voice, and celebrating alongside them.”


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