Building Platforms & Surpassing Expectations

It’s been a momentous year for the School for Cultural and Social Transformation — and we’re just getting started.  In her own words, Kathryn Bond Stockton, dean of the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, highlights six significant accomplishments for the School and gives us a preview of next year’s focus.

What’s new and exciting at the School for Cultural and Social Transformation?

“There are six big-ticket items that moved us forward this year:

  1. A ribbon-cutting ceremony
  2. A $600,000 Mellon Foundation Grant
  3. Disability Studies‘ campus re-launch and move inside the School
  4. A distinguished lecture by an international activist
  5. A historic celebration of Ethnic Studies
  6. Faculty book publications

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was a perfect way to kick off the year, both symbolically and materially.  We were able to honor the labor of past contributors and celebrate a physical space in the new Gardner Commons where future, critical conversations about intersectionality can be forged.  We are no longer just a cool structure.  We are a place.

Post-ribbon-cutting, as if in fulfillment of this new promise, we received a first-ever-in-the-U’s-history, $600,000 academic Mellon Grant for Pacific Islands Studies.  This three-year grant will be used to foster an academic ecosystem focused on three interlocking goals: recruiting and retaining students who seek Pacific Islands Studies; advancing interdisciplinary, humanistic, and indigenous approaches to Pacific Islands research and teaching; and building meaningful relationships with Pacific Islander communities in the state of Utah.

Forging the Mellon Grant, with me as lead editor, were four specific experts:

  • Hokulani Aikau – associate professor of Gender Studies and Ethnic Studies
  • Matt Basso – associate professor of Gender Studies and History
  • Maile Arvin – assistant professor of Gender Studies and History
  • Chris Ostrander – executive director of Foundation Relations at the U

Running the Mellon Grant in tandem with the College of Humanities is a group called the Mellon Collective.  This four-person group helps sustain the program and provides outreach to our campus communities — and beyond.  The Mellon Collective members are:

On a different front, and shortly after we received the Mellon, the School was approved, by four University decision-making committees, to officially house Disability Studies (comprised of a minor and a graduate certificate we seek to refurbish). Before this new development, the University was in danger of Disability Studies dissolving at the U, since it was run by terrific people who were either retired or about to retire.  Also, faculty were scattered in different places across the University.  As a result, Disability Studies lived on a webpage in the College of Humanities, maintained by the College of Social & Behavioral Science, funded by the College of Health.  So, nobody really knew where to find it.  Our new goal became getting it regathered, centralizing its energies, and tethering it to two strong scholars publishing work in this cutting-edge field: Angela Smith, Disability Studies director and associate professor of Gender Studies and English and Lezlie Frye, assistant professor of Gender Studies.  These two thinkers and dedicated teachers are showing the centrality of Disability Studies to the scholarship surrounding race, gender, and sexuality.  I and many others feel so primed to advance our education.

And something I so personally enjoyed was our public Distinguished Lecture event, in partnership with the U’s Tanner Center for Human Rights (under the leadership of U Law professor Erika George). This lecture featured Tendayi Achiume: an assistant professor at the UCLA’s School of Law and, most remarkably, the first woman ever to hold the position of the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.  Joyfully, we were hosting someone who’s doing vital and visible international work with the UN.  And the argument she was making — rethinking migration and who gets to immigrate where and why — was simply fascinating.  Our next-day seminar with her led to fast and furious discussion, especially in a period when this issue is burning very hot in our nation and around the world.

Speaking of events and national conversations, the School (in late March) had the privilege of celebrating 50 years of Ethnic Studies in the U.S.  (We ourselves are just a few years shy of 50 years of Ethnic Studies at the U!)  I don’t know if I’ve ever attended anything quite so moving from start to finish at this one-day event.  Five straight hours of knock-your-socks-off panels, conversations, and historical meditations.

Lastly, we’ve pushed out numerous great publications this year, including four notable books: those by Darius Bost, assistant professor of Ethnic Studies; Annie Fukushima, assistant professor of Ethnic Studies; Baodong Liu, professor of Ethnic Studies and Political Science; and Susie Porter, professor of Gender Studies and History (and chair of Gender Studies).”

What are you most proud of?

“It’s truly hard to say, since most of these things are beyond expectation for a new college — especially the Mellon grant.  However, since people always matter most, I would still claim that our hiring seven young scholars (all from underrepresented backgrounds) in a two-year period is our best accomplishment.  And I’m so humbled, as are all the School faculty, to be part of these developments that distinguish and define the work our students daily inspire by what they do.  It’s been a fine year!”

What do you envision for the school next year?

“As mentioned, we’ve done a lot of hiring as a new college.  Now it’s time to build platforms for intellectually engaging each other and many scholar-activists across this campus.  To this end, we will craft in-depth symposia with our own folx — faculty, staff, and students — dialing in exciting colleagues from neighboring departments.”

How will it look?

“The format for these idea-conversations will be about 12-15 people, with a mix of faculty, staff, and students reading each other’s work.  I imagine a two-to-three-hour conversation, providing seriously pleasurable engagement.”

Any closing thoughts?

“Game on!  For talk and action.”

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