California State University Ethnic Studies Programs Awarded $1.5 Million Grant

The Mellon Foundation grant will help the university system advance race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality studies.
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  • The California State University system received a grant of $1.5 million from the Mellon Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding the arts, culture, and humanities.
  • The funding will go toward supporting existing ethnic studies programs and developing new programs.
  • The foundation gave out grants of at least $1 million to five public universities as part of its new Affirming Multivocal Humanities initiative.

The California State University (CSU) system announced plans to expand its ethnic studies programs, thanks to a $1.5 million donation from the Mellon Foundation.

The university was one of five public institutions to receive expanded grants under the Mellon Foundation's Affirming Multivocal Humanities initiative.

The Mellon Foundation awards grant funding to organizations focused on the arts and humanities that contribute to a more connected, creative, and just society.

The CSU is grateful to the Mellon Foundation for this generous funding, which is an important step to expand pathways and enhance classroom experiences in ways that intentionally link race and ethnicity and gender and sexuality concepts into the course content, Laura Massa, interim associate vice chancellor of academic and faculty programs at the CSU Chancellor’s Office, said in a press release.

These disciplines are critical for creating a shared language and understanding of our students' diverse histories, backgrounds, and experiences — and ultimately a more equitable society.

The university system plans to use the funding to support its existing ethnic studies programs, which could include more degree concentrations, transfer pathways, and blended bachelor's and master's degree programs, along with developing new programming.

While there are no set plans yet, the CSU Chancellor's Office says it plans to get input from faculty across the system to figure out how to distribute the funding, according to the press release.

The CSU's grant is part of over $18 million in Mellon Foundation awards to 95 public college and university programs to address the continuing need for nuanced scholarship on the breadth of the human experience through race, ethnic, gender, and sexuality studies.

The Affirming Multivocal Humanities initiative offered $100,000 grants to institutions that offered at least 10 bachelor's degrees in women's and gender and sexuality studies or any individual U.S. ethnic studies field in 2021, according to the organization's website.

The study of race, gender, and sexuality has become ever more central to work in the humanities over the last 30 years or so, Phillip Brian Harper, Mellon Foundation director of higher learning, said in a release, and it is important that inquiry in these areas — which is of perennial interest to students — continue to enjoy robust support.

Along with the CSU, the Mellon Foundation awarded four other universities larger grants of at least $1 million: The City University of New York, the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, the University of Kansas, and the University of Montana.

The City University of New York received the largest grant award of $5 million to expand its Black, Race, and Ethnic Studies Initiative, which launched in 2020. The expansion will create New York's first dedicated graduate program in Black, race, and ethnic studies (BRES), offering a doctor of philosophy and a master of arts degree in BRES.

The University of Hawai'i at Mānoa received $1.25 million from the foundation to launch courses on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) environmental humanities and environmental justice, focusing on AAPI communities in Hawai'i, at the university, and across the U.S., Asia, and Oceania. The grant will fund two new faculty positions and a humanities lab.

The University of Kansas was awarded $1 million to support its Trans Studies at the Commons program, which will support initiatives such as the trans oral history project and a virtual fellows program. The funding will increase the number of transgender studies scholars at the university and open the door for students to pursue transgender studies as an academic field.

The University of Montana also secured $1 million from the foundation to support its work on cementing Native American knowledge in higher education through an Indigenous Scholar-in-Residence program. The grant will also support faculty members using Indigenous research, create a new tenure-track faculty position in Native American humanities, and fund student internships.