Connecticut College hosted the 2019 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program’s Northeast Regional Conference, “Decolonizing Academia,” Oct. 4-5.
The Northeast Regional Conference brought together more than 150 fellows and coordinators from Connecticut College, Amherst College, Bowdoin College, Brown University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Smith College, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University, Williams College and Yale University for lectures, presentations, and formal and informal discussions about the theme, “Decolonizing Academia.”
The event included an opening reception at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, with remarks by Connecticut College President Katherine Bergeron and a welcome by Marina Melendez, associate dean of juniors, seniors and transfers and coordinator of the Posse Scholars and MMUF programs at Connecticut College.
The MMUF program was launched in 1998 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in recognition of the need to increase the racial diversity of faculty across institutions of higher education. Named in honor of pioneering Civil Rights era activist and intellectual, Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, the MMUF program helps institutions identify students early in their undergraduate careers who are considering pursuing graduate level study. The program provides resources and support to help the cohort of students prepare for the graduate school application process and to gain skills in conducting original research. Only a select group of colleges are invited to participate in the highly successful national program, which Connecticut College joined in 2008 with a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Sandy Grande, professor of education and director of the Center for the Critical Study of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) at Connecticut College, gave the opening keynote address, “Un-Settling the University.” Grande’s research and teaching interfaces Native American and Indigenous studies, education and critical theory, toward the development of more nuanced analyses of the colonial present. She was recently awarded the Ford Foundation Senior Fellowship.
The conference also included a call to community by Connecticut College Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John McKnight and breakout presentations by MMUF seniors.
Viridiana Villalva Salas ’20, an English major and Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy scholar who is also pursuing a secondary education certificate, said her favorite part of the conference was connecting with the other MMUF scholars at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum.
“Having the opportunity to connect with other MMUF scholars in the northeast region is incredibly beneficial. Though we spend a significant amount of time talking about our research topics and interests, what I found the most meaningful was the conversation we had about the complexities about being scholars of color who want to enter the world of academia,” she said.
Each year, Connecticut College faculty members select a cohort of rising juniors interested in pursuing Ph.D.s in core fields in the arts and sciences to participate in the MMUF program. The fellows are provided faculty mentorship and research training, as well as a yearly stipend, summer research support, funding for research-related travel and the opportunity to attend conferences with other MMUF fellows. MMUF fellows who, in preparation for professorial careers, enroll in Ph.D. programs after graduation are then eligible for repayment of their undergraduate loans up to a maximum of $10,000.