Mellon Foundation funds multi-university collaboration on race and humanities

A window in a library at Yale
(Photo credit: Jack Devlin)

A collaborative project to investigate the connections between the study of race and racism and academic fields in the humanities has received funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Based at academic centers on four campuses — Brown University, the University of Chicago, Stanford University, and Yale — the multi-site effort will support a strategic collaboration to consider humanistic public scholarship, research, and teaching on each of the campuses. Coordinated by the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration (RITM), the collaboration aims to develop a strategy for addressing major challenges that each of the centers faces at the intersection of racial equity, the humanities and arts, and higher education.

This collaboration originated after the “Comparative Race Studies National Leadership Summit,” a first-of-its-kind event hosted last June by Stanford University’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE). The summit was attended by faculty directors and associate directors from centers around the United States — including the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA) at Brown, the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago, the CCSRE at Stanford, and RITM at Yale. Participants shared information about their work, goals, and challenges.

That meeting helped the attendees better understand different approaches to supporting faculty scholarship on race, developing undergraduate teaching and mentoring, funding graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, supporting tenure track junior faculty members, establishing community partnerships, working on fundraising and alumni relations, and collaborating with academic departments and humanities centers.

Since last June, the leaders of the four centers — which are all similarly structured — have continued to discuss how they might best advance scholarship on race in the humanities and arts; how they might problem-solve the administrative, political, and financial issues that they each face; and how they might work together on graduate education and faculty support. “Our discussions over the last five months have revealed that we have experienced similar victories and frustrations,” note the project organizers. “We now hope to work more closely together to learn from colleagues on other campuses, to support one another, to assure the recognition of race scholarship in humanities units, and to establish cross-university collaborations.”

With this Mellon Foundation grant, the members of the strategic collaboration will consider the institutional position and intellectual work of their academic centers and affiliated faculty and students on their campuses. They hope to encourage new conversations at the four universities about graduate admissions and education, faculty hiring, resource allocation, and inter-university cooperation. The center directors hope that the partnership will also lead to the development of new faculty leaders who work on topics related to race and racism, and who have academic expertise on issues of diversity in the humanities and arts.

We believe that our work together should have a significant impact on the way we approach research and teaching in the humanities. This grant from the Mellon Foundation will support the creation of a strategic collaboration that considers the institutional position and intellectual work of race-related academic centers and programming on our campuses,” says Stephen Pitti, professor of history and of American studies, and director of Yale’s RITM.

The four centers are hosting meetings on each campus to meet with faculty members and administrators across the humanities. “The humanities have a crucial role to play in helping heal and transform society,” notes Tricia Rose, director of Brown’s CSREA. “We are delighted to collaborate with our colleagues in ways that support this urgent work.”

These meetings will help us sharpen our understanding of the academic landscape — both nationally and at our four universities,” says Pitti. “We aim to consult with leaders and experts who work on race in the humanities; to read widely in secondary scholarship; to learn about past efforts to rethink the ways that the study of race should be handled in departments, centers, and programs; and to consult faculty and staff colleagues, deans, development officers, and other key leaders.”

This multi-university effort will deepen key conversations already underway at Yale and other campuses, say the project organizers. “We are excited to participate in this collaborative project to rethink race studies and humanistic inquiry in a time when machine learning and AI are rapidly transforming our understanding of race, work, justice, and humanity,” says Jennifer DeVere Brody, faculty director of Stanford’s CCSRE.

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