October 31, 2007

Minority Studies Project Receives Grant

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Increasing diversity in American colleges may seem like a dream goal, but with a $630,000 renewal grant, Prof. Satya Mohanty, English, a founder of The Future of Minority Studies Research Project, is closer to achieving it.
FMS has received a three-year, $630,000 renewal grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation last June. The Project is a research network that includes about 300 scholars studying minority issues. It also hosts an annual Summer Institute at Cornell that focuses on specific social issues. Since it was founded in 2000, FMS has received approximately $1,000,000 from the Mellon Foundation.
The recent renewal grant is an 80 percent increase from the previous three-year grant of $350,000. Mohanty explained that the increased funding would help cover the overall cost of FMS and set up a FMS center at Spelman College, one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Georgia. The center will assist faculty from HBCUs in the Southern area.
“I’m very proud of [it] personally … It will make it easier for Cornell’s [and other mainstream universities’] faculty to interact with their colleagues at HBCUs,” said Mohanty.
The diversity of FMS may be one of its most valuable resources as FMS scholars come from over 75 institutions including Ivy League schools, large and small state universities, community colleges and HBCUs. However, Mohanty emphasized that numbers alone cannot define diversity and can often be misleading.
Mohanty further stated that the term “minority” is not limited to race as it encompasses gender, disability and sexuality.
“As we use [“minority”] in FMS, is not about numbers but rather about access to power,” he said. “Diversity is not simply about recruiting or admitting, say, more people of color, but also about changing the culture of the university so that you intellectually and socially empower people from marginalized backgrounds … [The] emphasis should be less on numbers and more on changing and improving the culture of an institution so that everyone can thrive socially and intellectually.”
“We don’t hold separate conferences on each minority identity because they’re all intimately connected … I believe we will all understand society better if we understand the experiences of different kinds of minority people, people who are ‘minoritized’ in different ways. This belief is at the core of what we do in FMS — and that’s why we talk more generally about ‘minority studies’ — which can complement the work done in, for instance, African-American or women’s studies,” he said.
In addition to diversity, collaboration is also a key element in FMS.
“I have been an academic for many years. I have heard many pledges about the importance of interdisciplinary work, and about the importance of interdisciplinary work in the area of minority studies. I haven’t seen any effort as successful as the FMS project,” wrote Prof. Claude Steele, Psychology, Stanford University, in a response to FMS’s Summer Institute.
Creating a new form of mentorship is another facet of FMS. Apart from the traditional mentor-student relationship, FMS also aims to provide quality mentoring and encourages “horizontal mentoring” among peers.
“FMS has emphasized mentorship and a deep egalitarianism within its community since the start. This is a primary source of the multi-discipline, multi-institutional impact that FMS is creating. And it creates an ideal learning environment for the Institute,” wrote Prof. Daniel Little, Philosophy, University of Michigan, in a response to FMS’s Summer Institute.
Originally, FMS was intended to be open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Due to a lack of resources, it now is only available to untenured faculty, graduate students and recent Ph.D students. However, the option of extending FMS to undergraduate students remains.
“If someone gives us the funds and the institutional support, we can plan a similar seminar for undergraduates,” said Mohanty. “If they get the right sort of mentoring, more minority undergraduates will see themselves doing valuable intellectual work and go on to graduate school. This is what we’re hoping will happen with the summer institute: more scholars mentored in this way will go on to change the culture of the U.S. academy, make it more egalitarian.”