Imagining a world transformed by humanities scholar-practitioners, the Humanities for the Public Good (HPG) initiative is laying the groundwork for a new interdisciplinary, collaborative, and practice-based humanities graduate degree. In its third year of a four-year grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, HPG is supported by the Graduate College, closely collaborative with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and hosted by the Obermann Center.
If the last two years were about imagining elements of such a program, this year was dedicated to collecting and building skills that can be applied directly to a degree program.
Humanities Labs Foreground Community
The HPG Advisory Board spent the year working in small groups to imagine future humanities labs. Like their counterparts in the sciences, humanities labs foreground inquiry, exploration, and collaboration. Often centered on a project, labs are spaces (physical and/or intellectual) where trans-disciplinary teams convene to respond to a hypothesis or problem of importance in the world and across communities—so-called “wicked problems.” Our labs took up issues around racial justice, healthcare, and comprehensive exams. Members worked together throughout the year to imagine courses or new models based on their topic.
A member of the Health and Racial Justice group, Ana Rodriguez (Spanish & Portuguese) said of the process, “There were many conversations with colleagues that taught us a lot about the healthcare world. This took us outside our comfort zone. We were trying together to tackle a problem with the aid of different approaches. That’s the philosophy of the lab, and that’s the philosophy of the courses we would like to design.”
Other participants noted how the pandemic underlined the value of being in process within a community, and to be doing work for the betterment of the community. A graduate student in the College of Education and a lab member, Gordon Louie explained, “The opportunity to work with [with members of my lab], from a variety of departments and different disciplinary backgrounds, but also grounded in that ethic of hope and change and transformation… I don’t know how many times or chances that something like this would come up.”
Also of value to many lab members was the unique opportunity to use the analytical skills of the humanities to think collectively about the process of graduate school. “It is so exciting and important to ask and contemplate ‘why do we do things this way, and how could we do something different…that could be BETTER?’” said Joni Kinsey, a faculty member in Art & Art History.
“I don’t know if I would have got out of the last year and half the way that I did if it weren’t for this group, and the way that we parsed out the insanity of this [time]…with a racial justice bent, what is it like for organizations or individuals, either on campus or off to work with community partners. It’s a very tangible resource that I’m really proud of.”
—Chuy Renteria reflects on his participation in an HPG Humanities Lab
Course Redesign Focused on Equity and Inclusion
In response to COVID, during summer 2020, we invited two outside consultants, Anna Jackson and Fisher Qua, to lead a series of workshops in Liberating Structures that participants could then adapt to classrooms, department meetings, and other online gatherings. Liberating Structures is a series of facilitation structures that help groups learn and discover together in unexpected, democratic ways. Although Liberating Structures was not created with the virtual world in mind, Jackson and Qua imaginatively adapted many of their methods to the pandemic world, making Zoom meetings at once more interesting, more humane, and—most importantly— more just. These attracted more than 200 participants from across the university and the country.
Participants were invited to apply for $1,000 mini-grants to implement Liberating Structures methods into a graduate-level course. Two cohorts of faculty redesigned graduate courses to foster more equitable, inclusive, and student-centered pedagogy. Collaboratively, they imagined not only how graduate training can prepare students for various careers, but also how graduate curriculum can be enriched by diverse voices and perspectives.
The goal of HPG’s Course Redesign Mini-Grants—recipients of which received mentoring from Jackson and Qua in Liberating Structures—was to inspire faculty to align courses in their departments more closely with the values and objectives of HPG. Collaboratively, they imagined not only how graduate training can prepare students for various careers, but also how graduate curriculum can be enriched by diverse voices and perspectives, and more equitable, inclusive, and student-centered pedagogy.
- Paula Amad, Cinematic Arts, CLAS
Course: Success in Graduate Studies
- Meriam Belli, History, CLAS
Course: Readings in Middle East History-Global Perspective
- Tara Bynum, English and African American Studies, CLAS
Course: Studies in African American Literature-Six Degrees of Phillis Wheatley
“I see the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink & anticipate what future classrooms will look LIKE . Admittedly, I don’t know the shelf life of podcasts. But what I do know is that flexibility seems to be part of our pedagogical futures.“
- Anny Curtius, French & Italian, CLAS
Course: Slavery, Museums, Memorials, and Statues-The US, Europe, and the Global South
- Roxanna Curto, Spanish & Portuguese; French & Italian, CLAS
- Course: Introduction to Graduate Study in French
- Megan Gilster and Carolyn Hartley, School of Social Work, CLAS
Course: Critical Lens into the Social Work Profession (team-taught course)
- Naomi Greyser, American Studies; English; Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies, CLAS
Course: Interdisciplinary Research in American Studies
- Michaela Hoenicke-Moore, History, CLAS
Course: Research in Transnational US History
- Jennifer Kayle, Dance, CLAS
Course: Graduate Improvisation I
- Julia Kleinschmit and Yolanda Spears, School of Social Work, CLAS
Course: Discrimination, Oppression, and Diversity
- Travis Kraus, School of Planning & Public Affairs, Graduate College
Course: Community Development in the Upper Midwest
- Ana Rodriguez Rodriguez, Spanish & Portuguese, CLAS
Course: Professional Training and Development
- Jan Steyn, Literary Translation and French, CLAS
Course: Translation as Public Advocacy and Professional Practice
“[The class] went from 15 to 8 weeks, in order to accommodate students hoping to enroll in 8-week internships/ practicums for the other half of the semester, & added a module on ‘The Right to Translate’ that negotiates both legal & ethical rights.“
- Deborah Whaley, English and African American Studies, CLAS
Course: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies: Stuart Hall
Interns Build Skills, Connect with Mentors
Ten UI graduate students participated in the Mellon-funded HPG’s third summer of internships. They created websites, wrote curricula, recorded oral histories, and developed arts assessment tools. Not only did most of the interns learn entirely new skills, such as audio editing, they also applied existing skills to new formats. The benefits they experienced from participating in the program echoed those of previous interns and included rethinking the focus of dissertations and other research projects; adding new opportunities to their fall schedules, such as a class from the UI Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio; connecting with potential employers; locating partners for research and teaching opportunities; and gaining new confidence.
“[THE INTERNSHIP] WAS A BIG CONFIDENCE-BUILDER AT A MUCH NEEDED TIME. I AM GOOD AT AN ARRAY OF THINGS THAT NEARLY ALL BUSINESSES NEED; I FEEL MUCH MORE CONFIDENT THAT I’LL FIND A JOB THAT I BRING MY SKILLS TO.”
—Ashley Dorn, History
The internship program was featured in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Leonard Cassuto, “Doctoral Education Should Include an Internship.”