From the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation:

By Anthony Balas

March 26, 2024

The University of California, Berkeley, is making a hopeful case for African American studies amid attacks on academic freedom. 

Critical as they are to a healthy democracy, open conversations at public universities on race, history, and freedom are increasingly threatened by an array of attacks—from cuts to funding for humanities departments to legislation that restricts higher education institutions from incorporating topics like racial injustice into curricula. 

To Nikki Jones, who is a professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley, these attacks can be understood, in part, as “a reaction to the growing strength, durability, and impact of African American Studies as an academic field.”  

In an effort to insist on the liberatory possibilities of public higher education, Jones and the department are advancing the Banned Scholars Project with the help of a $100K grant from Mellon. 

The project will serve as a refuge for scholars who are directly under assault, while also curating conversations to think about questions of history, freedom, and democracy. Through a mini-residency for public talks, guests of the project will be invited to give context to the present political moment and address the circumstances of persecution, censorship, intimidation, and silencing that scholars who advance Black or ethnic studies are experiencing. 

By offering a space for Black scholars and the public to engage with each other, Jones said that the department hopes to help bring about a shift for public universities: from a position of defense into a “positive and hopeful case for the critical role of African American studies in envisioning our collective future.” 

Outside the Banned Scholars Project, Mellon has also supported the department in its development of the Critical Conversations initiative and the Black Studies Collaboratory