Eric Wang

  A coalition among Yale and several other schools to reconsider the intersection between humanities, race and racism has received funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The effort, a collaborative between Yale, Brown University, the University of Chicago and Stanford University, has been coordinated by and out of the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration. It aims to increase cooperation among the academic centers across the four universities to better understand how the study of race and scholarship of humanities intertwine and how the structure of humanistic scholarship can be improved.

“We are still in the process of identifying the challenges we face in our local institutions,” founding Director of RITM Stephen Pitti said. “The aim is to work together across universities to consider major structural changes in the way the humanities are approached and research is supported, and how issues of race and racism are recognized in humanities departments.”

The idea for the project originated in a summit held by Stanford University’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity called the “Comparative Race Studies National Leadership Summit.” The one-day event was held to initiate discussions on issues such as the role academic institutions can play in the public discourse surrounding race.

The meeting consisted of faculty and administrators “from around the country working on topics related to race, indigenous communities, migrant communities and similar issues,” according to Pitti. The participants, who convened from over 10 universities, shared the perspectives they had developed on their campuses.

“We offered information about the long history of departments such as African American studies and programs such as the Ethnicity, Race and Migration [major] at Yale,” said Pitti, who participated in the summit. “We also shared some of the faculty efforts to lead in research and teaching related to those topics [of race and racism] for the past 40 or 50 years.”

Matthew Tanico, the associate director of RITM, stressed the importance of the discipline of humanities in discussing the issue of race. He said that, among the many values of the humanities, the subject matter teaches us “the ability to engage with ambiguity and nuance,” and that this quality is important to understand “the myriad ways in which race and race-related issues implicitly and explicitly affect our society.”

“This collaboration will bring together the intellectual resources and experiences of our centers in an effort to rethink how the humanities have historically engaged with these topics [of race and racism] and how we might do so in innovative, thoughtful, and practical ways going forward,” Tanico said in an email to the News.

According to Pitti, collaboration is important because it results in a much wider span of interests, expertise and methodologies, which allows scholars to “see both widely and deeply and to provide one another information and insight on topics [surrounding race] that require careful consideration.”

Professor Jennifer DeVere Brody, the director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity at Stanford, told the News that she was “extremely excited” about the collaboration and to consider how the humanities could effect change at a time when “racial injustices are ever more pervasive.”

“The humanities have done much to shape racial discourse and continue to have a vital role to play in how we think about life, death and being,” she said in an email. “We exist in an era of ‘big data’ that challenged our understanding of knowledge, and yet, as Toni Morrison says, ‘fact can exist without human intelligence, but truth cannot.’”

The Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration was established in 2016. The undergraduate program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration was established in 1997.

Ayumi Sudo | ayumi.sudo@yale.edu