Eric Wang

The Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration — an academic research center that houses the Ethnicity, Race, and Migration program — received a $4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation earlier this month.

The grant is intended to advance the study of race within humanities fields across four universities: Yale, Brown, Stanford and the University of Chicago. RITM at Yale intends to use the award to create new curricular programs, support faculty research projects, provide increased institutional support for students and strengthen community development initiatives. Though the Mellon Foundation is focused on the arts and humanities, RITM serves the entire University, allowing for potential interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Yale, in some ways, has really been at the forefront of key developments in these fields. The ER&M program has been an intellectual leader in the academy. At the same time, these are programs and initiatives that are sometimes not accorded full centrality in many of the departments and programs around the University in which issues of race ought to be critical,” said Stephen Pitti, director of the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.

Yale, Stanford, Brown and the University of Chicago each applied for an undisclosed sum of money, and a portion of the grant is allocated specifically for cross-campus collaboration. Pitti, who currently serves as head of Ezra Stiles College, said he hopes to work with colleagues at other universities not included in the grant. He told the News that he is looking forward to putting “instructors on different campuses in conversation with one another” through class offerings. He added that scholars of racial studies fields recognize the importance of bridging the gap between universities and their communities.

“No one institution can do all of this work on its own … too often we see ourselves as competitors with other institutions when it comes to questions of academic production,” Pitti said.

Professor of American Studies Alicia Schmidt Camacho — who is affiliated with RITM — said that the grant offers an opportunity to use a more humanities-centric framework in racial studies. According to Associate Director of the Center for the Study of RITM Matthew Tanico, one central focus of the grant is to “provide opportunities and resources for humanities faculty who have not focused primarily on questions of race and racism in their scholarship.”

Several faculty members associated with the center mentioned the potential to boost programs in theater and performance studies. RITM began collaborating with the Yale Cabaret last 2019. As a part of that collaboration, RITM supported the Verano Cabaret season focusing on “what it means to be Latinx on a local, national, and global level” and has continued to sponsor the Cabaret since, Tanico said.

“The Cab is an extremely innovative and successful pedagogical model, and one that I hope we might try to recreate beyond the School of Drama,” Tanico said.

Faculty and staff affiliated with RITM emphasized the growth in interest in ethnic studies at Yale and beyond.

Tav Nyong’o, a professor of American studies and theater and performance studies who is affiliated with RITM, said that many believe that the humanities is under threat. Still, he added that “the version of the humanities that is often held to be in crisis is not always recognizable to my colleagues and I who teach in fields devoted to the study of social difference.” 

The RITM’s flagship program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration is one of the fastest-growing majors in Yale College.

Ella Goldblum |

Correction, Jan. 29: A previous version of the article used “she” to refer to Professor Nyong’o, who uses he/him pronouns. The article has been updated to reflect this.