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A First for UHD!

CHSS Receives Prestigious Mellon Foundation Grant


By Sheryl E. Taylor

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation mission is clear: “Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.”

The Mellon Foundation recognized UHD for answering the call for strengthening justice, student success, and equity with its proposal for the creation of a Black Studies curriculum and degree program.

The College of Humanities & Social Sciences (CHSS) was among the Foundation’s grantees of the inaugural 2022 Higher Learning Open Call Civic Engagement and Social Justice Related Research and Projects—exploring three distinct topical categories—Civic Engagement and Voting Rights, Race and Racialization in the United States, and Social Justice and the Literary Imagination.

CHSS received a $500,000 grant in the category Race and Racialization in the United States for “Unpacking Contemporary and Historical Constructions of Race and Racialization: Developing a Program of Black Studies.” According to CHSS’ proposal to the Foundation, “This project will develop and create an edited Black Studies interdisciplinary collection focused on contemporary and historical constructions of race and racialization and design a Black studies curriculum and degree program predicated on this collective scholarly research.”

Fellow recipients in this category included Northwestern University, Syracuse University. University of California at Los Angeles, and Vanderbilt University.

Open to any accredited, non-profit, four-year, liberal arts, degree-granting institution in the U.S. with more than 1,000 full-time degree-seeking undergraduates and multiple humanities degree programs, the call generated more than 280 submissions from 150 institutions. Established in 1969, the Foundation—the largest funder of the arts, culture, and humanities—has recently awarded more than $12 million to 26 colleges and universities across the nation ranging from $250,000 to $500,000.

“This grant will help launch a vibrant Black Studies Program for students at our minority-serving institution. The timing of the announcement is perfect given recent attacks on African American Studies in the state of Florida,” said Dr. Jonathan Chism, Assistant Professor of History and Associate Director of UHD’s Center for Critical Race Studies.

He continued, “In awarding this grant, the Mellon Foundation is affirming that Black Studies is not the enemy. Certainly, students will engage with figures who the establishment at different moments in history has deemed radicals, such as David Walker, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis. A curriculum in Black Studies equips students with the critical consciousness needed to understand lingering social problems and the inspiration to create a diverse, equitable, and just America.”

“This is the first Mellon Foundation Grant that UHD has received,” said Dr. Wendy Burns-Ardolino, Dean of CHSS. “This is significant because it establishes UHD and the College of Humanities & Social Sciences as a premier innovation hub for the humanities and human skills-based talent development.”

She also congratulated the CHSS team who played critical roles in the development of the proposal: Dr. Vida Robertson (Principal Investigator) Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Critical Races Studies; Dr. Felicia Harris (Co-Principal Investigator); Dr. Jonathan Chism; Dr. Paul Kintzele, Associate Dean of CHSS; and Dr. Chuck Jackson, Professor of English.

“I am thrilled that this grant will fund the development of a Black Studies edited collection, educational workshops, community engagement events, co-curricular programming, curricular planning, and development programming over the next three years!” noted Burns-Ardolino. “The project promises to strengthen student success in the humanities and social sciences by deepening our shared understanding of historical and contemporary constructions of race and racialization.”

Chism concluded, “In line with our Institutional Compass, I believe students who major in Black Studies or take electives in the program will develop an enhanced understanding of diversity, even among Blacks, who are not a monolith,” he said. “Furthermore, as justice and equity are central threads in Black Studies, given the diverse forms of oppression Black people have experienced throughout American history, students may become more interested and invested in social justice work and in careers that contribute to the advancement of the ‘beloved community’ that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned.”


About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.