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Ohio State University gets Mellon Foundation grant

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The Ohio State University Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS) has been awarded a $1,972,000 transformational grant from the Mellon Foundation.

AAAS boasts a 50-year history of interdisciplinary scholarship and education centered on the Black experience. The grant will assist in advancing the department and positioning it to be a national leader.

“This generous support from the Mellon Foundation will accelerate transformative growth for our Department of African American and African Studies,” said Melissa L. Gilliam, executive vice president and provost. “By expanding its faculty, recruiting graduate students and strengthening community partnerships, the department will build on its rich 50-year history at Ohio State.”

During the four-year grant period, AAAS will broaden and deepen humanistic inquiry in fields ranging from ethnomusicology to literature. AAAS’s current faculty have diverse expertise, research interests and public service engagements that extend from Columbus to the Congo to Belgium. Support from the Mellon Foundation will help to secure 10 new tenure-track faculty, nearly tripling the number of AAAS’s faculty members. Ohio State has committed to funding all 10 faculty positions in perpetuity.

The Mellon Foundation will also fund three postdoctoral fellows in AAAS who will be appointed through the Provost’s Tenure-Track Fellow to Faculty Program and transition to tenure-track faculty at the end of their fellowship. In addition, AAAS will relaunch its graduate program and recruit competitive PhD students to pursue their degrees at Ohio State.

“This grant is in keeping with the foundation’s objective of promoting more complete and accurate social and cultural narratives,” said Mellon Higher Learning program director Phillip Brian Harper, who noted that the experiences of peoples of African descent are crucial within both national and global history.

Originally established as an academic unit (Black Studies) in October 1969, AAAS achieved formal department status in 1972 and is celebrating its 50th anniversary. With the humanities at its core, the department uses interdisciplinary methodologies and intellectual inquiries to sharpen critical thinking and advance social justice discourses within the university and throughout the world. AAAS employs these tools and applies these strategies in its teaching and research as well as through programming, activities and events that foster community engagement and public-facing research.

The grant will strengthen the department’s long-standing community partnerships within and beyond Columbus by expanding and enhancing the AAAS Community Extension Center (CEC), located in the city’s Near East Side at the center of Black heritage and creativity. Like AAAS, CEC has a 50-year history and provides robust academic and community education opportunities. Finally, AAAS will deepen Ohio State students’ and surrounding communities’ engagement with social justice by infusing the new General Education program with humanities curricula and creating certificate programs with a broad community appeal.

“We have such a strong foundation of scholars and students, and this is such an exciting time for Black studies at Ohio State,” said Dana Renga, dean of arts and humanities. “We are grateful the Mellon Foundation has afforded us an opportunity to transform our department of African and African American Studies, and to reinvigorate our commitment to the Community Extension Center and to the broader community.”

In addition to supporting AAAS, the Mellon Foundation has awarded two research grants to humanities faculty at Ohio State. An award of $492,000 has benefited the research project titled Native Americans and African Americans in and out of the U.S. Body Politic. Led by Margaret Newell, distinguished professor of history, the project seeks to uncover the hidden histories in civic engagement and voting rights of Native Americans and African Americans.

The foundation has also awarded $480,000 for the project titled Liberation at the Margins Collective: Research, Teaching and Learning in Community at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Led by Mary Thomas, associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, the project will focus on creating pathways for formerly incarcerated students. These awards demonstrate the Mellon Foundation’s commitment to advancing social justice and creating equitable access to humanities in higher learning.

“We share with the Mellon Foundation a faith in the transformative power of the humanities, especially for realizing projects of social justice,” said David Horn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We are excited about these new partnerships.”