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Meet Rikki Willingham and Sharmeen Jariullah of Gray Matters the Blog in Dallas Fort Worth

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rikki Willingham and Sharmeen Jariullah.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Hi, we are Sharmeen Jariullah and Rikki Willingham co-founders and co-hosts of Gray Matters the Blog! We met through the Texas Woman’s University’s Multicultural Women & Gender Studies program. Sharmeen is completing her M.A. and Rikki is a Ph.D. student. Sharmeen’s research interests center around the portrayals of South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Muslim women in mediated platforms, and Rikki’s research initiatives analyze the representation of African American women in media and pop culture.

We recognized the need for a platform that connected the abstract academic theory we were learning in our courses to current sociopolitical events that impact communities at large. Our academic commitments and creative projects inspired our initiatives to create “Gray Matters the Blog.” This project includes a podcast, an Instagram page, and a website that prompts conversations and builds coalitions with creatives and scholars in and outside of academia aka “The Ivory Tower.”

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
This collaborative effort started out with abstract ideas and over two years of planning to manifest in a concrete project. One of the most important things we learned is how to balance our strengths and limitations and to believe in our own abilities to overcome the hurdles of starting a new and distinctive venture.

As women of color entrepreneurs, we continue to find ways to navigate the podcast and blogging space. Our endeavors are especially unique in both academia and non-academic spaces, as we aim to bridge academia and activism.

Gray Matters the Blog – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The goal of Gray Matters the Blog is to make complex theory accessible, prompt conversations about uncomfortable topics, and provide tangible resources. Gray Matters is an inclusive space for all backgrounds and abilities, and an example of which is the episode transcripts, which are available on the website. Gray Matters the Blog, focuses on making complex academic theory and language accessible to those within and outside of academia. Utilizing both a podcast and blog format, the audience has options in the ways they wish to connect with complex theories. Every episode of the podcast features academic experts expounding on their research in ways that the reader can engage with the material.

The website features different pages and showcases the works of various literary and creative perspectives, as well as reading recommendations on the “un-book” club page. Sources are provided directly on the website and on each episode. What sets us apart the most is our novel positionality based on our own identities as well the function of Gray Matters the Blog as a medium for engagement that utilizes a podcast, website, and social media.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
We have had the extraordinary opportunity to collaborate with amazing artists, writers, activists, and specialists in their field. Many of our episodes feature these outstanding individuals as guests, including our “social justice writing” episode featuring Texas Nobel Laureate Emmy Perez and UNT professor of Journalism Dr. Tracy Everbach.

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