Their interests and backgrounds might have been diverse, but the response from the Future of Minority Studies (FMS) Summer Institute fellows, presenters and attendees at Cornell University was singularly positive. Participants praised the content and context of the two-week seminar, "Feminist Identities, Global Struggles," as well as four symposia focused on diversity of gender, income, ethnicity and disability.
"I felt like I had happened upon a real community of learners who were coming together across differences -- of background, of field, of style -- to learn from each other and contribute to the development of a certain body of knowledge that is very essential in a changing and troubled world," said Rima Turner, a Cornell sophomore who attended several FMS events.
FMS is an academic think tank and research team composed of minority scholars and others 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 and mentoring in the humanities and related social sciences.
"What is unique about FMS, as many people have noticed, is that it facilitates effective mentoring by providing an intellectual context in which it can be done," said Satya Mohanty, FMS Summer Institute director and Cornell professor of English. "Intellectual collaboration and a progressive social vision are at the heart of FMS, and so we don't separate the intellectual from the professional, the research activity from the social skills that many junior scholars need to develop."
Some comments from FMS scholars, fellows and visitors to the summer institute:
Raine Leon, a doctoral candidate at the School of Education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who made a last-minute decision to attend several FMS symposia and seminars: "I had no idea that FMS existed until only a few short weeks ago. I did not know such environments existed, [and] I have never been so actively engaged in the dialectic idea formation and expansion that happened so frequently during the FMS weekend ... FMS ... is opening up entire modes and topics of discourse for me in respect to how I think about my work and what I want to study."
Rima Turner, Cornell sophomore who attended FMS symposia and several sessions: "What struck me about the conference is that the participants were diverse. Questions for presenters were thoughtful, well-articulated and relevant. The material that was being discussed was also relevant, rather than obscure or arcane. The diversity also meant that I saw role-model scholars -- people from my own background and shared traits. I was inspired by the Transnational Feminisms session because I am personally interested in doing field research with and collecting oral histories, art, artists' statements from women around the world, especially women facing difficult survival and/or socioeconomic circumstances."
Gail Lewis, guest speaker from the Institute for Women's Studies, University of Lancaster, U.K.: "FMS is unique in the way in which it is trying to embed reconfigured notions of mentoring into a wider intellectual project that raises questions about how we form coalitions and form new pedagogies that ... build links within the institution as well as outside the institution ... it is an agenda for social transformation and an epistemological project. Now we will go back to our respective institutions and form new connections with people of color around the world -- in that way, FMS is an intellectual project that's got tram lines across the globe."
Elizabeth Philipose , assistant professor of political science at California State University and an FMS summer fellow: "As a scholarly enterprise, FMS is rich with theoretical sophistication; as a network there is a very strong activist set of commitments to ensure that scholars working in minority studies not only survive but thrive in the academy. With the commitment to mentoring and support for minority studies scholars, FMS has already transformed curriculum and pedagogy in some places where FMS scholars are located. The project is likely to grow through the efforts of the director, network members and the summer institute, and this will continue to transform pedagogy and curriculum in more locations."
Paula Moya, guest speaker and a founding member of FMS and associate professor of English at Stanford University: "The colloquium itself -- with its various symposia focusing on the intersection between disability studies and realist theory, the role of political commitment in historical research, the challenges facing transnational feminists and the necessary coincidence of diversity and excellence in higher education -- was really fabulous. Each topic was diverse, and yet each was like every other insofar as they all exhibited a deep concern with the relationship between minority identities, social justice and democratic futures. I was particularly taken by the two panels focusing on the intersection between disability studies and realist theory. It was a demonstration of the best sort of collaborative thinking in the humanities -- a collaboration in which scholars read and seriously engage a set of texts in order to further develop their own ideas. I learned a great deal, not only about disability and disability studies, but even about my own work as I listened to how several scholars took up some of the ideas in my work as well as in the work that I have been very influenced by. I came away from those two panels with new concepts and new vocabulary, as well as a richer understanding of the relationship between different kinds of bodies and the physical environments in which those bodies move."
Khanum Shaikh, an FMS summer fellow and graduate student in Women's Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles: "One of the most powerful dynamics was to be part of this brilliant group of scholars of minority studies -- most of whom are scholars of color -- coming together to deeply challenge one another to expand our frameworks for theorizing, to push the boundaries of our intellectual thought and to create ways of thinking that go beyond complacency but are, in fact, committed to furthering a larger vision for justice. Rather than uncritically re-enacting the behaviors that we learn in the academy -- intellectual arrogance, competition of ideas and proving whose ideas carry more intellectual weight, I felt that this space was built on an ethic of deep respect and a deep commitment to collaboration -- while remaining equally, if not more, invested in the production of rigorous scholarship ... Our guest speakers came from South Africa, India, London and many diverse locations within the U.S., and each offered inspirational accounts of struggle and vision within their own contexts. These conversations, rather than being confined to the 'ivory tower,' had everything to do with re-envisioning strategies for change within our intellectual communities both inside and outside of the academy."
Mohanty said the next step is for publication of books and jointly authored essays based on the 2005 summer institute as well as a follow-up conference in late September at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Cornell next will host the FMS Summer Institute in 2006.