Latino Cultural Center Awarded Mellon Grant

The University of Illinois at Chicago Rafael Cintrón Ortiz Latino Cultural Center is part of a leadership cohort in the Humanities Action Lab that has been awarded a generous grant of $500,000 over three years from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish Climates of Inequality and the COVID Crisis: Building Leadership at Minority Serving Institutions, a national initiative to build infrastructure for minority-serving colleges and universities (MSIs) to foster public humanities climate leaders in a world changed by COVID-19. The initiative opens opportunities to reimagine public humanities pedagogies and practices as tools for shaping this new world and pursuing social justice.

This cohort will amplify the voices of nontraditional students and non-tenured faculty of color in higher education to have a significant role in framing the environmental and climate crisis as a social justice issue that demands solutions derived from front-line communities and challenges universities to reflect on their role in this crisis. Rosa Cabrera, Director, UIC Latino Cultural Center.

Climate change disproportionately affects people of color, marginalized communities, and low-income earners, demanding climate leadership from those “front-line” communities and engagement strategies that frame climate in relation to other social justice issues. The COVID crisis has further highlighted those inequalities, disproportionately impacting communities whose health has already been compromised by environmental degradation, or whose public health infrastructure has been weakened by climate disasters. The physical isolation of the COVID crisis has exacerbated the invisibility of these communities, their stories, and their knowledge; it has also produced a remarkable opportunity for new connections and inspiration, as a vast majority of people around the world are experiencing aspects of what frontline communities have been confronting for generations.

HAL’s projects have demonstrated that community-engaged public humanities builds student civic leadership. This initiative will extend Climates of Inequality (COI), launched in 2019, in which the University of Illinois at Chicago and 20 other colleges and universities (and counting) across the US and internationally partnered with environmental/climate organizations and cultural institutions on a national curriculum and public memory project.

Faculty from the following institutions designed the initiative and will make up its first cohort:

  • Rutgers University–Newark — in partnership with Ironbound Community Corporation;
  • Shaw University — in partnership with North Carolina Environmental Justice Network;
  • University of California, Santa Barbara; Cal State University Northridge; and the University of California, Riverside (regional collaboration) — in partnership with Padres Pioneros;
  • University of Illinois at Chicago Latino Cultural Center– in partnership with Alianza Americas & Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO);
  • University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez.

Climates of Inequality and the COVID Crisis: Building Leadership at Minority Serving Institutions will be an ongoing initiative designed to build the infrastructure for public humanities-based climate leadership in a world changed by COVID, centering the experiences, assets, and needs of MSI students and faculty. In this way, HAL seeks to support a new generation of “front-line” climate leaders to use the humanities to build public engagement in just climate solutions and responses to the pandemic.

Mellon Foundation funds will support:

  • An MSI national leadership cohort of 10 institutions grounded in competitive fellowships for faculty, students, and community partners;
  • Translocal training and collaboration, through a summer institute convening all fellows; domestic “study abroad” experiences at participating campuses and community partner institutions; and regular video conferencing;
  • Production of student- and community-created multi-media local histories and public programs that respond to the exigencies and potential legacies of social distancing, from virtual reality films to virtual healing circles, to engage publics across the country on the climate crisis through the collective COI traveling installation and web platform;
  • Research and resources on the assets, needs, and impact of MSI leadership in public humanities education around the world unfolding under COVID and the climate crisis, including a robust toolkit and publications on leading project-based climate courses, community co-creation, facilitating dialogue, and other resources on teaching public humanities for social justice in the context of a global pandemic.

HAL seeks to create a lasting space to strengthen humanities pedagogies and practices around social justice, while confronting the most existential justice issue we face: the climate crisis.

For more information, please contact:
Kyle Goins

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