UC Berkeley’s African American studies department was awarded a $2.8 million grant by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation on Dec. 11, 2020, to support an initiative led by the department’s faculty.
Referred to as the “Black Studies Collaboratory,” the project seeks to encourage community involvement in the area of Black studies while expanding opportunities for new voices in the academic arena. Divided into four parts, the project involves think tanks, a summer intensive for graduate students, a grants program and a closing retreat with community partners, according to Leigh Raiford, campus associate professor of African American studies.
“The foundation was interested in collaborative teams of humanities-oriented scholars focused on exploring our history in imaginative and creative ways,” Raiford said. “We were tasked with writing the grant proposal, and we wanted to implement something that was a collection of the ideas that have guided our department for nearly 50 years.”
Raiford discussed the ways in which Black studies have become increasingly relevant in today’s political and social atmosphere, citing the protests that arose across the nation during the summer and the heightened racial awareness of the past few years.
According to Raiford, while the African American studies department has always operated at a smaller scale and budget, focused interest in the research has made it necessary for the department to expand.
“The origin of this field has been about community partnerships and educating the entire campus community about the histories and legacies of race and racialized blackness,” Raiford said. “Having this grant will enable us to build our infrastructure and our community of scholars across campus.”
As part of its efforts to continue community outreach, the African American studies department also hosts a speaker series celebrating the life of Barbara Christian, a founding member of the department. The first panel is scheduled for Jan. 25.
Tianna Paschel, a campus African American studies associate professor, echoed the sentiments expressed by Raiford, including the department’s desire to bring Black studies outside of traditional academic spaces.
“Part of what we’re hoping to do is to bring the community and the broader field to Berkeley and to bring Berkeley to the world,” Paschel said. “We want to partner with community organizations and members to further our studies and our knowledge of our history.”
While Paschel did not reveal the department’s plans for after the project and the grant, she said the hope is that the grant will give the department the opportunity to amplify its mission and explore spaces in Black studies.
She added that the intent of the initiative is to help faculty and students find their own communities during a “transformative” experience.
“We’re just hoping we can build a model of Black studies that’s embedded in the community and in these public debates,” Paschel said.