Mellon Grant Awarded to Project to Create Anti-Racism Education

SMEA Professor Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, at the invitation of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has become a partner in a major new grant-funded project sponsored by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. As part of the foundation’s Just Futures Initiative, “Humanities Education for Anti-racism Literacy (HEAL) in the Sciences and Medicine (STEMM). He joins co-PIs Cheryl Bauer-Armstrong (Native Education); Christy Clark-Pujara (Higher Education); Elizabeth Hennessy (Coordinator and Higher Education); R. Justin Hougham (Environmental Education & Equity); Erika Marín-Spiotta (STEM Higher Education); Maxine McKinney de Royston (Learning While Black); Todd Michelson-Ambelang (Libraries); and Monica White (Community Engagement). The team believes that the work of anti-racism cannot be left only to Black, Brown, Indigenous and other minoritized people. This is why they have a large, cross-racial and interdisciplinary collaborative team of humanities scholars, social scientists, natural scientists, librarians, evaluators, and community partners team, who bring different expertise and lived experiences to the project.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison-based “Humanities Education for Anti-racism Literacy (HEAL) in the Sciences and Medicine,” will bring together faculty, students, community members and Tribal partners to address a lack of awareness of histories of racism in academic disciplines, especially in scientific disciplines, and a lack of diverse representation in STEMM across sectors, from academia to industry. UW’s team is cross-university, and inter-institutional with collaborators at Duke University, and several community and Tribal partners. The team’s goal is to center the educational experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students to build more accurate narratives about histories of racism in the sciences and medicine to better understand persistent underrepresentation and to develop educational tools for building a more equitable university and society.

  • The project is primarily focused on learning from the experiences of Black and Native peoples’ lived experiences in higher education and STEM fields to improve anti-racism education in the sciences and medicine to create a more equitable university.
  • We seek to be socially impactful not only on and beyond the UW–Madison campus, but also in the Madison community and, across Wisconsin, as well as in the STEM community at a national level, through working with students and educators in public school systems, our community partners, and scientific societies.
  • We believe the humanities play a critical role in unveiling hidden histories of discrimination and exploitation in our academic and societal institutions and in providing communities with the tools to break down barriers to access and equity in higher education.
  • We also believe that equitable access to higher education requires both targeted interventions to increase recruitment and advancement of minoritized students as well as educating all STEMM students and teachers about histories of systemic racism.

The project has three phases:

  • The first year of the project will focus on oral histories that foster learning from the experiences of Black and Native peoples’ lived experiences in higher education and STEM fields to improve anti-racism education in the sciences and medicine to create a more equitable university.
  • In year two, the team will use the data they’ve collected to develop humanities-based, culturally appropriate curricula and courses on histories of systemic racism for students and educators. They work from the conviction that equitable access to higher education requires both targeted interventions to increase recruitment and advancement of minoritized students as well as educating all STEMM students and teachers about histories of systemic racism.
  • Year three will see the implementation and dissemination of these resources, including teacher training and workshops. They seek to be socially impactful not only on and beyond the UW–Madison campus, but also in the Madison community and, across Wisconsin, as well as in the STEM community at a national level, through work with students and educators in public school systems, community partners, and scientific societies.

For the UW Seattle project, Professor Woelfle-Erskine will work with Karuk Tribe collaborators Lisa Morehead-Hillman and Leaf Hillman and postdoctoral scholars Kimberly Yazzie (Diné / Navajo) and Daniel Sarna-Wojcicki on collaborative projects that strengthen partnerships among Tribal members and students as they develop new ideas and practices. This team will coordinate closely with Cheryl Bauer-Armstrong, who leads The University of Wisconsin’s Earth Partnership: Indigenous Arts & Sciences to better prepare and support Native students for academic life, and will build on both teams’ strengths in Indigenized curriculum and pedagogy. Learning about the land from a Native perspective is a profound shift in thinking that influences everything from designing field courses, to re-examining restoration practices for waterways and ecosystems.

Read more about this project here.