April 27, 2005

Mellon Foundation grant funds Future of Minorities Studies institute

ITHACA, N.Y. -- This summer Cornell University will be the epicenter of a major national initiative to diversify humanities departments, called the Future of Minorities Studies Research Project (FMS) Summer Institute. Funded through a $350,000 three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the institute places Cornell at the vanguard of efforts to democratize the humanities in higher learning centers across the country.

"The FMS project is a wonderful mentoring and networking system for committed young minority scholars and for all those interested in the future of minority studies," Cornell President Jeffrey S. Lehman stated in a proposal to the foundation. "With the help of the Mellon Foundation, the proposed institute and colloquium promise to advance and explore the meaning of diversity in American colleges and universities."

Founded in 2000, FMS is an academic think-tank and research team composed of minority scholars from more than 25 campuses in the United States and abroad. These scholars bring a variety of social and moral perspectives to the field and provide a unique model of collaborative intellectual work in the humanities.

"This important project promises to make a significant national contribution to the effort to provide effective mentoring to members of minorities, who will join college or university faculty in the humanities and social sciences," said J. Peter LePage, dean of Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences.

FMS is affiliated with such major universities as Cornell, Stanford and Syracuse, as well as state universities, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Washington and SUNY-Binghamton, and private liberal arts colleges, such as Hamilton and Mount Holyoke. These FMS centers coordinate innovative research, colloquia and publications that are focused on minority identity, education and social transformation.

"FMS serves two major social needs by creating a collaborative research culture that is rare in the humanities and by mentoring a new generation of minority scholars on a national scale," said Satya Mohanty, professor of English and director of the FMS summer institute. "The need for mentorship is not adequately met by traditional fellowship programs. FMS puts Cornell in a leadership position in the area of minority studies and in this innovative national project of mentoring."

More than 100 junior faculty and doctoral candidates nationwide applied for the 2005 summer institute; 18 were accepted. Starting in late July, they will take part in a two-week seminar taught by senior scholars, attend the international colloquium and also take advantage of FMS' collaborative research environment, which will be made available to them year-round. Participants will present results of their own research at a follow-up conference and maintain intellectual and social contact with junior and senior scholars through semiformal colloquia, conferences, retreats, Web-based dialogue, collaboration and publication.

"We put every summer seminar participant in touch with other FMS scholars working on similar topics," said Mohanty. "In effect, he or she is provided with an ongoing research and mentorship experience that creates relationships of trust and intellectual solidarity while encouraging scholarly collaboration and ongoing intellectual exchange."

Mohanty, a prominent literary theorist, says the intellectual roots of the project bear the Cornell imprint.

"The theoretical ideas that have shaped the project -- the 'post-positivist realist' theory of identity and culture -- were developed by Cornell faculty and graduate students during the 1990s," he said.

A "realist theory" of social identity and multicultural politics provides an alternative to the widely influential postmodernist understandings of identity, one of the most contentious topics in literary theory and cultural studies today. A collection of 10 essays co-edited by FMS scholars and titled "Reclaiming Identity: Realist Theory and the Predicament of Postmodernism" (Berkeley, 2001) serves as a primer on the subject.

Given its intellectual connection to Cornell, it is fitting that the FMS summer institute should be held on the Ithaca campus, said Mohanty. FMS also can "make it easier for Cornell to recruit minority scholars in a variety of disciplines." In addition, FMS research will benefit the Cornell community year-round as the institute organizes activities such as talks and symposia and supports reading groups, he said.

At Cornell, Mohanty shares FMS duties with an interdisciplinary advisory faculty that includes: Lehman; David Harris, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for the Social Sciences; Biodun Jeyifo, professor of English; Dominick LaCapra, the Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies; and Helena María Viramontes, associate professor of English.

The summer institute is governed by an executive committee of distinguished faculty and administrators from participating schools, including Kenneth McClane, the W.E.B. DuBois Professor of Literature at Cornell. For a comprehensive listing of FMS executive committee members, the national FMS coordinating committee and more in-depth information on the project, visit http://www.fmsproject.cornell.edu.

For more information about the project, contact Mohanty at spm5@cornell.edu.