Margaret Rhee
Margaret Rhee, left, stands with Isela González and Kate Monico Klein who also work with "From the Center," following the award ceremony.

In early May, Margaret Rhee, a doctoral candidate in Ethnic Studies with a Designated Emphasis in New Media Studies, was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Public Service in the category of Campus-Community Partnership for her project “From the Center,” a collaboration with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Chancellor Nicolas Dirks recently awarded 12 students the Chancellor’s Award for Public Service in six categories.

Margaret Rhee has been interested in the stereotypes that surround ethnicity for as long as she can remember. She said she was drawn to Berkeley because it established the first Ethnic Studies graduate program in the country and because she loves the culture of social activism in the Bay Area. Originally from Southern California, Rhee relocated to the Bay Area to obtain a Master’s in Ethnic Studies from San Francisco State University.

Challenging top-down styles of education, Rhee and the other founders of “From the Center” decided to collaborate with women incarcerated at the San Francisco Jail to help them become advocates and teach HIV/AIDS prevention by using digital storytelling as a platform for their message.

“[From the Center] is about stepping back to give women that are currently and formerly incarcerated the opportunity for leadership and a chance to engage as community activists and educators,” said Rhee. By working with this historically disenfranchised population to create new media, Rhee and her colleagues gave these women a way to tell their own stories and work together as co-educators.

“Media creation empowers people to learn in a very engaged way,” said Rhee, who has increasingly become interested in new media since she first took a class with Professor Ken Goldberg called “Art, Technology and Culture.” Rhee gained so much from the class that in her six years at Berkeley she has taken the class twice.

Goldberg has become a mentor and is an advisor on her dissertation, which examines how ethnic stereotypes pertaining to Asian Americans relates to cultural representation of robots.

Rhee, who is Korean American, believes many Asian Americans are perceived by American mainstream cultures as cyborgs or robots. Her dissertation explores the roots and politics of this perception through popular media and robotic art.

Next fall Rhee will begin a postdoctoral appointment at the Institute of American Cultures at UCLA.