New CLAS Programs Support Anti-Racist Teaching, Research and Community Engagement

Paper leaves with ideas on how to confront racism at UConn.
Paper leaves with ideas on combating racism seen on a table hosted by SUBOG along Fairfield Way during a UConn metanoia event on Nov. 8, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences announced this week the winners of four new CLAS grants to provide support for research, course development and programming that advances the struggle against injustice and racism in the United States.

The grants are part of a host of initiatives that stem from the recently adopted CLAS Strategic Plan, which aims to center work on diversity, equity, and inclusion as a main priority in the University’s largest and broadest college.

“The College is home to UConn’s experts who can come together through interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching to help address inequalities and inequities,” says Juli Wade, Dean of CLAS. “As the University’s core of liberal arts and sciences scholarship, we have a responsibility to advance this work.”

Funding for the four projects will be used to develop anti-racist research, create social justice-focused undergraduate courses, and support programming to expand understanding and response to injustice in novel ways.

“In a time of intense social upheaval and repeated violent assaults on Black, Indigenous, and people of color, I’m especially proud that the College has initiated this new program,” says Kate Capshaw, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in CLAS. “The funded projects will bring students, faculty, and activists together in a new way that brings academia into the national fight against racism.”

The programs will conduct their work during the 2020-2021 academic year, and will report their results in June 2021.

The four grantee programs are:

  • UConn Activist in Residence Program

Rooted in creative exchanges across University-community divides, this program aims to support difficult conversations about inclusionary priorities on our campuses, and to develop and strengthen student, staff and faculty capabilities and commitment towards social justice. Over the course of the 2020-2021 academic year, two Activists in Residence will share with  UConn their insights drawn from their wealth of community-based experience, applicable to the challenges at UConn as a social collective and intellectual community. They, in turn, will gain new knowledge and insights through their intellectual and practical engagements with UConn communities, which they will then bring to their activist practices. Award: $8,000

Program co-principal investigators (co-PI’s): Director of Asian and Asian American studies and Associate Professor of History Jason Chang; Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of History Melina Pappademos; Program Director of American Studies and Associate Professor Chris Vials; Doris and Simon Konover Chair of Judaic Studies, Director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, and Professor of Literatures, Cultures and Languages Avinoam Patt; Interim Director and Associate Professor in Residence of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Sherry Zane; Director of El Instituto and Professor of Anthropology Samuel Martinez

  • Racism in the Margins: Anti-racist Approaches to Writing

This initiative engages anti-racist approaches to student writing at UConn. In addition to considering the practice of “W” instruction, the program includes a robust faculty development component grounded in current research and dedicated to dialogues to enact change around racism and writing assessment across the full university curriculum. A (virtual if necessary) conference  on the subject will precede the development of a faculty working group charged with proposing, shaping, and shepherding a new UConn-wide faculty development initiative around racism and writing assessment practices. The organizers believe this is  the first initiative in the nation to put the margins of student writing at the center of anti-racist faculty development. Award: $9,500

Program co-PI’s: Associate Professor of English Kathleen Tonry and Gabe Morrison, graduate student in English

  • Decolonizing Area Studies: Towards Intercultural Citizenship and Social Justice

This effort seeks to de-center whiteness in language education by developing and implementing curricula, learning materials and teaching methods that truly reflect the diversity and cultural variety of modern-day societies and help uncover the oppression that minoritized students often suffer and that dominant groups perpetuate. This initiative will involve a series of lectures, a symposium, and a graduate student working group, along with developing a plan to implement theories, approaches, practices, and assessments towards decolonized curricula. Award: $8,600

Program co-PI’s: Professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages Anke Finger; Professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages and Director of the German Language and Culture Program Manuela Wagner, and Isabell Sluka, graduate student in Literatures, Cultures, and Languages

  • Creation of a Collaborative Social Justice Undergraduate Course, Language and Racism

This partnership between the Africana Studies Institute and the Cognitive Science Program will create a course focusing on language usage, language policies, and language prejudices that both by design and by default help to create and perpetuate racism in the United States. The course will focus on the varieties of English used by people of African descent in the United States and will help students better understand how racism is produced and reproduced in discourse, especially in the context of the denial of racism. Using a computational tool, students will also learn to analyze their own and others’ linguistic output in speech and in writing. The course will help students reflect on the interaction of language, power, and communication in everyday life. Award: $8,000

Program co-PI’s: Professor of Psychological Sciences Letitia Naigles and Assistant Professor in Residence of Africana Studies V. Bede Agocha

To learn more about CLAS programs to combat prejudice and social injustice, visit the College’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion website.