February 26, 2007

Project Aims for C.U. Diversity

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This July, most students will be busy elsewhere with internships, jobs and vacations. But 12 doctoral students from around the nation will be at Cornell, pondering questions such as “does the identity ‘woman’ have any meaningful relationship to reality or experience at all” and “can social identities be studied ‘objectively,’” according to the Future of Minority Studies Research Project website.

The two-week long summer institute is just one of the many programs of FMS. Since 2000, FMS has held conferences, formed reading groups, begun a mentoring network and provided unique research opportunities for undergraduates in the humanities.

“We started the FMS Project because many of us were interested in questions of justice, minority education and questions of minority identity,” said Prof. Satya Mohanty, English, the founder of the Project.

One of the Project’s main goals is to create more diversity among both professors and students of the humanities.

“I don’t think the goal can ever be just to diversify the professoriate, because that’s simply a means to an end,” Mohanty said. “The goal is to diversity the professoriate because we know and realize that diversity of viewpoints … leads to a better education.”

A diversity of viewpoints is crucial to the study of the humanities, Mohanty said, “but the subject isn’t just about the book you’re reading. It is also about variety of human experiences. Diversity shows the range of possible human experience there is.”

Over the last decade, Cornell has emphasized creating a more diverse faculty. Between 1995 and 2005, the numbers of minority and female faculty increased by 47 percent and 33 percent, respectively, according to a report titled “Summary Update: Progress Toward Diversity and Inclusion.”

One of the more unique aspects of FMS is that it provides opportunities for collaborative research in the humanities, which Mohanty said “are very limited.”

Kate Foley ’08 and Rashel Dorleans ’07 created a bibliography of minority texts for the Project. So far, they have annotated 150 texts and created “a database that faculty or other members of the community can access,” Foley said. “Having it all in one place is very useful.”

“It is not necessarily all abstract thinking,” Dorleans said. “It is not always exceedingly difficult. It can be enjoyable. I have done so much research in the past year simply speaking to professors and graduate students. I have seen that research can be put into practice for social good.”

Despite their work on the Project, participants say there is still much more to be done.

“I think a great next step for the Project would be to see it paired with critical texts and organized in other ways,” Foley said. “I think there [are] ample ways for the project to grow.”

Correction appended: “Project Aims for C.U. Diversity” stated that Prof. Satya Mohanty, English, was the founder of the Future of Minority Studies Project. He was actually one of the founders. The Sun regrets this error.