Grant Fuels Black Studies Faculty Expansion at the University of Rochester

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Since its launch in late 2022, the Department of Black Studies at the University of Rochester (UR) has worked to advance conversations surrounding Black and African culture and identity through an interdisciplinary, global lens. Thanks to a new $3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Higher Learning program, the department will further its goals by hiring new faculty members from several fields.

The funding will support three new full-time, tenure-track faculty from two specific subfields within Black studies — geography, and sexuality and/or trans studies — along with an open position without a particular subfield. The goal of making the Department of Black Studies a global leader in African diaspora research and discussion aligns with UR’s 2030 strategic plan, which emphasizes the advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and an increase in interdisciplinary collaboration.

“I am so proud that the School of Arts & Sciences can lead on this critical priority with the expansion of a department that will inspire conversation, research, and ultimately action,” Nicole Sampson, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, said in a press release. “This new investment will allow us to build a consequential department, making [UR] a leader in working to understand the global African diaspora.”

This hiring effort comes only several months after the department brought in two new faculty members — Jordan Ealey, PhD, expert on Black feminism in performance art and theater, and Philip V. McHarris, PhD, expert on racial inequality, housing, and policing.

Rochester’s Black studies program is designed to integrate various disciplines, including social sciences and humanities, to explore the historical, cultural, psychological, economic, and political aspects of people of African descent in the “Atlantic world,” which includes the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

Before the department was established in the 2023-2024 academic year, Black studies faculty were housed within UR’s Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African American Studies. The creation of the Department of Black Studies allows the institute to focus solely on programming and community engagement events.

“We’re building a department that houses scholars who don’t conventionally fit within traditional disciplinary modes,” Jeffrey McCune Jr., PhD, chair of faculty programs and departmental initiatives at the Department of Black Studies, said in the release. “Our scholars are working at the edges of the humanities and social sciences — often using literature and performance — to understand the phenomena within their fields.”

The department offers a bachelor of arts degree and minor in Black studies and is a particular draw for those who wish to dual major in history, English, political science, comparative literature, and anthropology fields. Students are encouraged to engage in internships, attend the distinguished speaker series, and participate in a biweekly video and film series exploring Africa’s past and present. Course topics include the Harlem Renaissance, race and gender in popular film, incarceration in the U.S., and discrimination in economics, among many others.

By using the cluster-hiring method, the department seeks to further expand its interdisciplinary goals by bringing in faculty from numerous humanities and social science fields, such as anthropology, English, history, modern languages and cultures, music, religion, and classical studies. The goal is to have between 10 and 12 faculty members by the 2025-2026 academic year. In doing so, the department hopes to become a vital resource for advancing the lives and conditions of Black populations, both within the university community and beyond.●