A $1.2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Davidson College will fuel new courses and collaborations with the community to help build broader public discussion, active citizenship and global problem-solving. The award announcement comes just weeks after a polarizing election and racial and social unrest in neighboring Charlotte.
The college's efforts are focused on the goals of justice, equality and community, concepts that are newly urgent but cut across time, cultures and academic fields. The Mellon-funded initiatives, including faculty-student collaborative research, will connect with the college's new graduation requirement centered around those same three ideals.
The new courses, research and outreach are expected to strengthen Davidson's success in creating a new model for higher education, a reimagined liberal arts experience. The college is ensuring students graduate with both a rich academic experience and broad, transferable skills for lives of leadership and service in a rapidly shifting world.
"We face formidable challenges to social mobility and racial equality in our region and around the world," said Davidson College President Carol Quillen. "Davidson prepares students to work toward a just future by cultivating humane instincts and disciplined, creative minds. This generous gift will allow us to bolster those efforts and demonstrate the critical role of humanistic inquiry in public discourse, citizenship and democratic leadership."
Justice, equality and community echo through Davidson's commitment to diversity and inclusion, which is central to the college's statement of purpose and in its institutional aspirations. The faculty recently reinforced the dedication to that trio of principles by unanimously approving a new graduation requirement designed around related courses.
The graduation requirement and the opportunity afforded by the Mellon grant grew out of the work of the Diversity Advisory Committee that formed in 2009. Jordan Starck '12, then a first-year student and committee member, left Associate Professor of Educational Studies Hilton Kelly's "Social Diversity and Inequality in Education" course with a new perspective on social justice.
"That class taught me about how power works in the world," Starck said in a recent interview. "And I thought that change in perspective was vital to Davidson's mission. The school wants students to develop humane instincts and lead lives of leadership and service, and developing that view of the world allows you to begin to change it."
Starck's observation and passion kicked off a years-long student-faculty collaboration as they re-thought the school's approach to teaching humanities and engaging with the community. Today, that work will change the way a host of courses are taught at Davidson College.
"This grant will be used to continue Davidson's investments in core values of the liberal arts," said Wendy Raymond, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty. "But most important, it will facilitate our students' ability to understand power structure inequalities across history and in light of the challenges that our nation and our world continue to face."
Broadly speaking, the grant will help Davidson achieve two things: enhance faculty innovation and engage the community at large.
Through grants, faculty members will be empowered to learn new skills to develop trans-departmental courses that focus on justice, equality and community. The new courses will work across disciplines and possibly across local institutions.
The faculty grants will also fund a broad range of activities - from travel to student research assistants - to create a community of faculty who exemplify the broad reach and applicability of the humanities, and who are adept at linking course material to the greater world and its power structures.
The Mellon Foundation's support will help strengthen the bond between Davidson and the community. The funds will promote creative student collaborations with community organizations and enable the development of a new digital platform to share justice, equality and community courses and outcomes. By extending the Davidson Domains platform that has already given students unprecedented digital agency, Davidson will reach out to the community and the world to share the knowledge these courses and research produce.
Davidson will also digitize portions of its archive with a particular focus on the history of race and religion on campus and in the region. By making this material widely and easily available, the college will lead this conversation and foster a more meaningful understanding of our shared history.
Finally, Davidson will host individuals working on issues related to justice, equality and community for residencies on campus to foster connections between campus and community and to create transformational experiences for humanities students.