Professors Leave a Legacy to UB
By Mary Cochrane
University at Buffalo professors Diane Christian and Bruce Jackson are a highly-accomplished pair.
Diane, a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, is a poet and author who has written extensively about issues of violence. She is also a religious literature scholar known for her courses on the Bible, heaven, hell and judgment and mythology.
Bruce is a SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture in UB's English department. He's also an acclaimed folklorist, ethnographer, documentary photographer, filmmaker and author or editor of more than 30 books on the subjects of folklore, sociology and photography. Bruce received a Grammy nomination for "Wake Up Dead Man," a CD of black convicts' work songs, which accompanied his book by the same name. He was named chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters and in the National Order of Merit by the French government, has served as president of the American Folklore Society, been editor of the Journal of American Folklore and chairman of the board of trustees of the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.
Diane and Bruce met as professors at the University at Buffalo in 1970 and were married soon after. But In Western New York, they're perhaps best known as the creators and longtime hosts of the Buffalo Film Seminars, a film screening and discussion series held every semester for the past 16 years. The couple have also written several books together and co-produced and directed the documentary, "Death Row," which the late French president, Francois Mitterand, used during his 1980s campaign to end the death penalty in France.
Recently, the pair added another role to their lengthy résumés-philanthropists to the University at Buffalo. The couple pledged $1 million to support a scholarship and a fellowship fund for students in the creative arts. The bequest was partly inspired by the Creative Arts Initiative (CAI), a UB program that brings world-class artists to campus. Bruce co-directs CAI with SUNY Distinguished Professor and Birge-Cary Professor of Music, David Felder.
The two awards will be named for Bruce and Diane's mothers-the Julia Jackson Scholarship in the Creative and Performing Arts, and the Ruth Christian Graduate Fellowship in the Arts. Bruce's mother, Julia, was the daughter of immigrants from Belarus and one of 13 children. She couldn't afford to attend college, but made sure her own children knew the importance of reading, writing and music.
"She wrote poetry and adored literature and music," Bruce says. "When I was young, she took me to the library every Saturday and there were piano and music lessons the family could ill-afford, but we had because she thought music was necessary. She delighted in every one of my books. I doubt my career would have taken the trajectory it did had it not been for her encouragement and support starting in my early childhood."
Diane said her mother, Ruth, taught middle school before raising four children and then returned to teaching once they were grown.
"She loved learning and the arts and young people. She disciplined by liveliness and humor," she says. "She was a super teacher and person."
The couple said they made their pledge to help meet the need for support for UB students in the creative and performing arts. They agreed to publicize their commitment in order to spur others' generosity.
"We want very much to stoke the artistic climate at UB," Diane says.
"It is our hope that our gift will encourage other people to make similar gifts to the university," Bruce added.