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Rutgers receives $15 million grant to fund racial justice research institute

Michelle Stephens, professor in the English Department and the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies, submitted the grant application on behalf of Rutgers and will serve as the founding director of the Institute. – Photo by

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $15 million, five-year grant to Rutgers to fund a new initiative called the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice, which will have centers in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden, according to a University-wide email sent by University President Jonathan Holloway. 

The grant is among the largest in the University’s history and will enable the creation of this Institute despite financial challenges posed by the pandemic, according to a press release. 

“We are living in a moment of global racial reckoning, a moment that calls upon us to be a country that lives up to the aspirations in its founding documents and takes concrete actions to end the social, economic and racial inequities that persist,” Holloway said, according to the email. “Moreover, from the conversations I have had with faculty, students, staff and alumni over the past few months, I am convinced that Rutgers has both the capacity and the obligation to play a critical part in this work.”

The Institute will aim to conduct research that can inform decision making when developing solutions for racial justice issues, he said, according to the email. 

“Aligning with the Mellon Foundation’s humanistic orientation, the Institute will support and amplify the scholarship of researchers who are based in the humanities or lean on humanistic methods and whose work has consequences in areas such as policy reform, K-12 education, social justice work and the carceral state,” he said, according to the email. 

Holloway said the grant and the establishment of the Institute will help the University recruit and retain scholars interested in studying race and social inequality in governance, culture, commerce and social control, according to the email.

Senior Vice President for Equity Enobong (Anna) Branch will also work to help get scholars already working at Rutgers involved with the Institute. 

The Institute will create named professorships with a five-year term and five one-year post-doctoral fellowships led by an executive director through an international search, according to the press release. 

The grant was submitted on behalf of Rutgers by Michelle Stephens, professor in the English Department and the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies. Stephens will serve as the grant’s founding director and principal investigator, Holloway said, according to the email.

Stephens said racism and social inequities are widespread issues in many societies, including our own, according to the press release.

“The hope here is that by drawing upon expertise across all fields of the humanities, from law to language, from philosophy to history and gender studies, the Institute will stand at the forefront in helping to inform policies to confront and address global inequity, injustice, racism and intolerance, but also through artistic and cultural endeavors that encourage imaginative solutions for influencing public opinion and inspiring cultural transformations,” she said, according to the release. 

He said the centers at New Brunswick, Newark and Camden will be run by a faculty member coordinating with a central executive director who will report directly to Executive Vice Chancellor for Research and Academic Affairs Prabhas Moghe.

Holloway said although he serves on the Mellon Foundation board, he was not involved in the decision-making process, according to the email. He said he hopes the funding from this grant will be supplemented by funding from other donors also interested in racial and social justice.

“Rutgers, an institution older than the country itself, has a history of excellence in the humanities as well as in the advancement of social justice through our centers, institutes and clinics,” he said. “Building on these strengths, the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice provides us with an opportunity to be an international leader in understanding the causes, effects and solutions to problems that have plagued the world.”

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