177 posts categorized "Public Affairs"

Learning environments that prioritize trust building: A commentary by Cierra Kaler-Jones and Jaime T. Koppel

August 01, 2022

Female_teacher_middleschool_class_GettyImagesIn the last 20 years, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office moved more than $1 billion in grants for school policing, hardening, and militarization. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, passed quickly in the wake of the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, is another effort that advances the illusion of “school safety” by increasing funding for police in schools, threat assessments, and school hardening—despite significant evidence that surveillance technologies and police presence undermine students’ trust. According to the U.S. Department of Education, millions of students attend schools where there are police officers but no counselors, nurses, psychologists, or social workers. Further, Black and brown students, LGBTQ+ students, and students with disabilities face the brunt of the harms of policing. Since investments in school policing have ballooned in recent years, many students and staff have never been in a school without police and policing infrastructure. This reinforces the myth that safety comes from police. Why keep investing in a strategy that’s never worked?

Philanthropy is too often complicit in these efforts. As a sector, we overwhelmingly invest in tidy policy wins that seem attainable within a grant cycle or two. We privilege groups with larger budgets, typically because we believe they have the greatest likelihood of “winning”....

Read the full commentary by Jaime T. Koppel and Cierra Kaler-Jones, co-director and director of storytelling at Communities for Just Schools Fund.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Review: 'Nonprofit Neighborhoods: An Urban History of Inequality and the American State'

July 27, 2022

Book_cover_Nonprofit NeighborhoodsIn 2014, when Massachusetts launched its “pay for success” social impact bond program—in which private investors would front the funding for nonprofit efforts to address a social issue—it was hailed as an innovative, data-driven public-private partnership that would deliver demonstrated results and cost savings. Yet, as Claire Dunning illustrates in Nonprofit Neighborhoods: An Urban History of Inequality and the American State, it was just the latest chapter in a long history of public-private initiatives that so far have not fulfilled their promise.

An assistant professor of public policy and history at the University of Maryland, College Park, Dunning defines “nonprofit neighborhoods” as “places where neighborhood-based nonprofit organizations controlled access to the levers of political, economic, and social power and mediated the local manifestations of the state and market.” While that definition might suggest the nonprofits have power, Nonprofit Neighborhoods illuminates how, through government and public-private grantmaking, nonprofits in Boston’s low-income and minority neighborhoods came to provide the services that government should have provided and, even more disturbingly, how that funding mechanism was used to appease, manage, and control grassroots movements for policy reform and inclusion....

Read the full book review by Kyoko Uchida, features editor at Philanthropy News Digest.

Immigrant justice is intersectional: A commentary by Birdie Soti

July 22, 2022

Immigration_law_lawyer_simpson33_GettyImages-850905664Every year, from all across the globe, tens of thousands of children migrate to the United States in search of safety. Their reasons for leaving home span all issues—from climate change to gender-based violence to racial injustice and religious persecution. Yet, far too often, their stories and experiences are reduced to their immigration journey and separated from all other aspects of their identities—which are affected by the same social issues that impact all of us.

Immigrant justice, like any social cause, is intersectional. For a child fleeing climate catastrophes, immigrant justice is also climate justice. For a pregnant teen held in immigration custody and in need of reproductive care, immigrant justice is also reproductive justice. For a trans migrant facing persecution for their identity, immigrant justice is also LGBTQ justice. And at the heart of each of these issues is also the fight for racial justice, as Black and brown communities remain disproportionately threatened by systemic racism, institutional barriers, and restrictive government policies our society is grappling with today.

For decades, the culture of fundraising and philanthropy has encouraged donors to select a well-defined cause and support it through ongoing monetary investments. Without question, these investments have been critical in deepening the work of nonprofits all over the world, and the impact of this financial support cannot be overstated. Yet, fundraising and philanthropy, like everything else, must adapt to meet the moment. The reality is that our safety and our rights are at stake. We must recognize ourselves as part of a global community and understand that whatever social cause we care about does not exist in isolation....

Read the full commentary by Birdie Soti, the philanthropy director for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.

How to build global victories from the ground up: A commentary by Nicky Davies, Carroll Muffett, and Christie Keith

July 04, 2022

Plastic_pollution_pexels-catherine-sheila-2409022In March, United Nations member states agreed to create an ambitious global treaty to reduce plastic pollution. A treaty of this magnitude—which will consider the full life cycle of plastic, from fossil fuel extraction, to plastic production, to its disposal—is a turning point in the fight against plastic pollution and climate change. As organizers and funders in the plastic pollution movement, we are thrilled about the promise of this treaty.

How did we arrive at this moment? Our groups organized more broadly and more deeply than the plastics industry ever anticipated. The strategy that produced this momentous win offers valuable lessons for funders on how to build global victories from the ground up, and what’s essential for the long-term fight against heavy industry opposition.

Fund from the bottom up and support local, diverse leaders.

The movement started with a commitment to supporting many local leaders from diverse groups and countries working together to understand what is needed in their own regions to win. This strategy works because there is incredible power in a movement that is led from the front lines by people who are experiencing harms firsthand....

Read the full commentary by Nicky Davies, Carroll Muffett, and Christie Keith. Davies is executive director of the Plastic Solutions Fund, Muffett is president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, and Keith is U.S. executive director and international coordinator of GAIA, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.

(Photo credit: Catherine Sheila via pexels)

Effective violence reduction strategies: A Q&A with Jocelyn Fontaine and Anita Ravishankar

July 01, 2022

Jocelyn_Fontaine_Anita_Ravishankar_Arnold_Ventures_credit_Todd SpothOn June 2, Arnold Ventures issued a research agenda and an RFP focused on violence reduction, including gun violence, citing an increase in violent crimes and incidents over the past two years across U.S. cities “regardless of their size, geographic location, or political leanings.”

Jocelyn Fontaine is Arnold Ventures’ vice president of criminal justice research; she previously served a senior researcher in the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, where she directed projects focused on corrections and reentry issues, gun violence, violence reduction programs, and police-community trust-building efforts. Anita Ravishankar is director of criminal justice research; she was a founding member of The Lab @ DC and the research and innovation team within the DC Metropolitan Police Department.

Philanthropy News Digest asked Fontaine and Ravishankar about the rise in gun violence, the priorities of the new research agenda and RFP, how violence reduction intersects with racial justice, and the role of philanthropy in driving solutions.

Philanthropy News Digest: Presumably the development of this research agenda and RFP on solutions for reducing violence was under way well before the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. What do you see as the main causes of the surge in violent crimes and incidents nationwide—many of which have targeted specific populations for their race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, or other marginalized identities?

Anita Ravishankar: Gun violence has long been at unacceptably high levels in the United States. The nearly 30 percent nationwide increase in homicides in 2020, on the heels of massive social disruptions due to the pandemic, brought that reality into sharp relief. As we noted in our materials, the increase in violence was widespread, affecting communities regardless of their size, location, political leadership, or policy environment....

But we do not have precise explanations, which is unsatisfying and hinders policy makers’ ability to address violence. So through this research agenda we are prioritizing studies that can help us understand both the immediate causes of violence—e.g., how do we understand what the particular problem of violence is in a given jurisdiction and respond in the near term—as well as the underlying or root causes of violence that require longer-term and more holistic strategies or solutions to address. Our work focuses on the people and places most at risk of involvement in violence, as perpetrators of violence and victims of violence, which has not changed much over time, and understanding what works to support police solutions.

PND: The research agenda comprises three pillars: address immediate crises of violence, identify and address the underlying causes of violence, and promote effective police investigations to solve violent crime. Did the most recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde shift or sharpen your priorities for the research agenda in any way?

AR: Arnold Ventures has been making substantial investments to understand the efficacy of different gun policies and different violence reduction strategies for several years. The notable increase in community violence over the past few years made clear the need to increase our research efforts to match the urgency of the moment in needing answers on effective solutions, spurring our research agenda and RFP. The events in Buffalo and Uvalde are absolutely heart-wrenching, leading so many of us to want our elected leaders to “do something, anything” to prevent these tragedies from happening. Those leaders will need to understand what policies and practices are effective, however, and building the evidence is a critical contribution to ensuring that decision makers do have high-quality information to navigate these challenges. Identifying evidence-based policy solutions has been and continues to be a key driver of our research investments, across all of our areas of work.

PND: The announcement notes that “[t]he distribution of these violent incidents remains predominantly concentrated in communities that have been subject to chronic underinvestment”—which would suggest that violence reduction is a racial and social justice issue. How do you see the intersectionality of those issues?

Jocelyn Fontaine: Homicide remains the #1 cause of death for young Black men, and the second leading cause of death for young Hispanic men. These statistics are sobering and unacceptable. We must develop effective tools and responses—including policies, interventions, and resources–to address the problem of high levels of violence effectively to save lives and reduce victimization and harm. Yes, violence reduction is an issue of racial equity. Several studies have found that the majority of crimes often occur in a small number of specific streets or blocks and those trends are largely stable over time. Further, Black and Brown people are significantly more likely than white people to be victims of serious violence and homicide. As violent crime is concentrated in economically disadvantaged Black and Brown neighborhoods, which have been historically underserved and marginalized and where residents have a relationship with the police and the justice system that has been defined through a history of marginalization, oppression, surveillance, coercion, and control, effective violence reduction strategies is absolutely consistent with efforts to advance racial equity....

Read the full Q&A with Jocelyn Fontaine and Anita Ravishankar, Vice President and Director of Criminal Justice Research, Arnold Ventures.

(Photo credit: Todd Spoth)

Philanthropic funders’ role in addressing the refugee crisis: A commentary by John Canady

June 22, 2022

Syrian_refugee_girl_studying_PlanBørneFondenThe UK government recently announced plans to deport undocumented refugees to Rwanda as part of a controversial plan to tackle immigration. The United Kingdom’s hardline approach to the refugee crisis points to a polarized debate many countries are grappling with: What are the costs of immigration and asylum seeking on host communities? Do we, as a public and as individuals, have a moral duty to welcome refugees into our societies?

The Ukrainian refugee crisis is just the latest in a series to hit the headlines. Last year, the mass exodus of Afghans made headlines after Western forces’ botched withdrawal from the country. In its 12th year, the Syrian refugee crisis remains the world’s largest such crisis of this century, with roughly 6.8 million Syrians now refugees and asylum-seekers.

Significant funding is urgently needed to address these conflicts as well as other less widely reported humanitarian crises. Philanthropists are uniquely positioned to help in these times of crisis. They provide much-needed support to NGOs and a sector still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also have the agility, motivation, resources, and, crucially, the financial means to play an important connecting role between governments and the third sector....

Read the full commentary by John Canady, CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust UK.

(Photo credit: PlanBørneFonden)

When are we going to show up for working moms?

May 27, 2022

Mother_son_piggybank_GettyImagesWomen are the center of our economy, care systems, and essential work—yet they aren’t at the center of our policies, programs, and pandemic recovery plans. Over the last two years, millions of women have been driven out of the workforce as COVID-19 lockdowns, homeschooling, and domestic duties including caregiving for children and older adult parents took over. The World Economic Forum reported that the pandemic has undone more than 30 years of progress toward gender parity. There are policy changes and programs that could be implemented to mitigate this impact, yet there isn’t the political will or private-sector leadership commitment to get us there. The nonprofit and care sectors both acknowledge that women and moms are at the center of our work—so we must ask: Why is this so hard to get done?

In her Marshall Plan for Moms and her latest book, Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work, Reshma Saujani has outlined clear recommendations for  investing in women as we move toward recovery. They include providing caregivers with a monthly cash payment, aka guaranteed income, for their often-uncompensated work and advancing policies that support affordable and accessible quality child care, parental leave, and pay equity. Women make up almost 80 percent of the care sector workforce. Saujani’s recommendations would help the women who work in this vital sector by ensuring that they receive quality wages; predictable, flexible schedules; and stable, quality care for their children so they can be fully engaged in professionally caring for others.

Philanthropy can help fund these programs, and many are already doing so. Providing unrestricted operating supports to nonprofits is especially important, as this type of funding allows for investment in the staff who are providing services in the care sector. Foundations can also spread the word about the impact that direct cash has on individuals, especially women, when speaking with lawmakers and other funders. Advocating for policies to enhance cash assistance such as the advanced child tax credit and to provide universal child care is another area where foundations can help.

Even before the pandemic, Americans struggled to cover basic expenses, secure quality child care, access paid leave, and maintain stable housing. During the pandemic, government responses including COVID-19 supplemental sick leave, child tax credits that put extra dollars in parents’ pockets, and eviction moratoria helped alleviate—temporarily—some of the most dire difficulties. Now the recovery is just beginning, and it will be a long one without significant investments in women. Policy makers must put the experiences of working moms front and center in their policy, program, and budget plans, and nonprofits and foundations must continue to advocate for such efforts on women’s behalf.   

I spoke with Reshma earlier this year and asked her to share three things the philanthropic sector can do now to show up for working moms. One was to raise awareness about the challenges women who are caregivers are facing. Women are the primary caregivers for their children and older parents and also are the majority of workers in the care economy. Together, nonprofits and foundations can work to understand how to provide support and funding to help women stay in the workforce. Child care is often the barrier to staying employed. A recent study by the San Diego Foundation, Workforce, Childcare & Change, confirmed that to address these challenges, working parents are seeking innovative benefits including healthcare and childcare subsidies and flexibility.  

Another was for workplaces to shift from programs, like mentoring, to policies, like paid leave, dependent care benefits, flexible work schedules, and paid or subsidized child care. And it’s important to approach this with an equity lens, including being mindful of supporting the non-birth parent’s paid leave and creating stable, predictable, and flexible schedules that still support employees’ ability to be seen, heard, and valued.

We know working moms have said, “Give me predictability and flexibility, and around 80 percent of us will go back to work.” We need moms to come back to work. The longer someone stays out of the workforce, the harder it is to go back. So, America, this is the moment to act.

While we wait and advocate for the rest of America to show up, nonprofits and policy makers must start showing up for moms now! As you know in your roles as leaders, parents, organizers, and humans—they always show up for us.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Dana Toppel_Jewish Family Service of San Diego_PhilanTopicDana L. Toppel is COO of Jewish Family Service of San Diego and founder of MAKE WORK WORK FOR MOMS.

 

 

Review: 'Private Virtues, Public Vices: Philanthropy and Democratic Equality'

April 30, 2022

Book_cover_Public_Virtues_Private_VicesIt is lamented that large-scale philanthropy (like everything else) has become politicized and polarizing, subject to conspiracy theories and accusations of whitewashing and being too “woke.” In Private Virtues, Public Vices: Philanthropy and Democratic Equality, Emma Saunders-Hastings reminds us that contributing private wealth for the public good—by definition—has always been a political act.

An assistant professor of political science at Ohio State University, Saunders-Hastings writes like the academic she is, giving careful consideration to historical and contemporary theorists and practitioners—including Alexis de Tocqueville, John Rawls, Peter Singer, Rob Reich, and Erica Kohl-Arenas—and scrupulously qualifying her statements, devoting almost as much space to what she is not arguing as to what she is. She does not deny the merits of philanthropy itself, as Machiavelli did, but seeks “a theory of philanthropy that is political, not just ethical; that applies across multiple levels of idealization; and that is oriented to relational equality”—that is, relations of social and political (not distributive) equality.

“Democratic equality demands of philanthropy and philanthropic regulation not (or not only) better outcomes but changes in the ways that power is distributed and exercised within philanthropic relationships,” she writes.

The book focuses on two objections to philanthropy with regard to democracy: “philanthropy can be an exercise of plutocratic power, and it can be objectionably paternalistic.” The title’s “public vices” are “relational vices—usurpation, subordination, failures of reciprocity, and paternalism,” which can create or reinforce unequal political relationships, even when based on consent. Despite calls for reform, elite philanthropy continues to enjoy both social deference, which limits comparative evaluations of philanthropic donations, and institutional and legal deference, in the form of tax benefits, facilitation of foundation creation, weak oversight, and protection of donor intent....

Read the full review by Kyoko Uchida, features editor at Philanthropy News Digest.

A paradigm shift toward investing in public health: A commentary by Adam M. Doyno

April 19, 2022

Doctor_patient_PeopleImages_GettyImages-1300493714Let’s not lose momentum in public health funding

It’s a haunting irony that New Yorkers and the nation have crossed the second anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdowns just as the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) has recommended the PREVENT Pandemics Act to the full Senate—but without a firm commitment to fund it. Can we hope for a bipartisan, sensible outcome that supports a unified response to future crises by funding infectious disease surveillance, forecasting, and preparedness centers?

Indeed, the nearly one million deaths in the United States and six million deaths worldwide to date call for a paradigm shift in which science- and data-driven public health becomes a leading investment focus for government, foundations, and individual donors.

The need for public health funding is as great as it ever has been. Enormous global emergencies are looming—with the spread of COVID-19, polio, and other viruses among Ukrainian refugees as one tragic possibility. There is an urgent need for public health institutions to transform their learnings about COVID-19, Ebola, HIV, and other deadly illnesses into guideposts for preventing or responding to the next pandemic....

Read the full commentary by Adam M. Doyno, executive director of CUNY SPH Foundation.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

How the international community treats refugees: A commentary by Frank Giustra

April 08, 2022

Migration crisis on the border with Belarus_GettyImages_NzpnSelective empathy: An observation on classes of refugees

“These are people who are Europeans, so we and all other countries are ready to welcome them. In other words, this is not the refugee wave that we are used to, where we don’t know what to do, people with an uncertain past—are they terrorists?”

These are the words spoken by Bulgaria’s prime minister, Kiril Petkov, in reference to the millions of Ukrainians who have crossed into neighboring countries since the Russian invasion began on February 24. This sentiment, whether spoken aloud or not, is prevalent among many European politicians. It helps explain the stark contrast between the approach being taken with Ukrainians and that afforded to other refugees, such as those fleeing terrible situations in Syria, Afghanistan, and across Africa. European leaders are bending over backwards to welcome Ukrainian refugees. Meanwhile, people of African descent and other racial/ethnic minorities have faced discriminatory treatment as they flee Ukraine.

Fearing those who don’t “look like us” or who worship God in a different manner is neither new not unique to Europeans. Hungary’s populist leader, Viktor Orbán, labeling all refugees from the Middle East “economic migrants” in contrast to the “proper” Ukrainian refugees is not that dissimilar to Donald Trump calling Mexicans “murderers and rapists.”

To be clear: I am all for helping Ukrainians in this time of need, and I am supporting two humanitarian organizations on the ground there: CORE and World Central Kitchen. That said, I feel compelled to point out the inconsistency in how the international community treats refugees depending on their race, color, and religion....

Read the full commentary by Frank Giustra, founding partner of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, co-chair of the International Crisis Group, as well as founder of Lionsgate Entertainment, Giustra Foundation, Acceso, and Million Gardens Movement.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Nzpn)

Resistance and opposition to Putin’s assault on democracy: A commentary by Viorel Ursu

March 18, 2022

Independence monument and ukrainian flag in Kiev_GettyImages_DmyTo_2Supporting civil society and democracy in Ukraine and beyond

The Open Society Foundations have been funding civil society groups in Ukraine since our founder, George Soros, launched the Kyiv-based International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) in 1990. Today, in the face of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s aggression, our foundations’ commitment to the independence of a democratic Ukraine is stronger than ever.  

But what does that mean? It means stepping up our support for those we have always supported in Ukraine—the civil society groups that have reinforced Ukraine’s democratic development, particularly since the Maidan uprising of the winter of 2013-14. Through our locally led foundation, we have been providing around $8 million annually in grants to these groups, working on everything from fighting corruption, to defending independent media, to helping Ukraine’s response to COVID-19, and promoting the rights of citizens.

So what are we doing now? With Ukrainian cities under attack, with more than a million civilians already fleeing the country and more terrors ahead, the international community is engaged in a massive humanitarian relief effort. But there’s another desperate need—to support the continued existence of the civil society groups in Ukraine and elsewhere in the region that provide the life blood of democracy, and who are now under threat from Putin....

Read the full commentary by Viorel Ursu, a division director with the Open Society Foundations’ Europe and Eurasia program.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/DmyTo)

Find more articles in Philanthropy News Digest about  philanthropy’s response to the war in Ukraine.

Find more updates and resources on Candids special issue page on the philanthropic response to the war in Ukraine.

 

Civic Alliance: A commentary by Natalie Tran

March 16, 2022

I_Voted_stickers_element5-digital_unsplashWorking together to strengthen civic engagement

At the CAA Foundation, we work to activate popular culture to create sustainable social change. Alongside our colleagues, clients, and industry peers, we mobilize timely initiatives to raise awareness and catalyze action and forge public-private partnerships to achieve scale and impact.

One of those initiatives is the Civic Alliance—a coalition of America’s premier businesses united by a commitment to our democracy. Founded in partnership with the nonpartisan civic nonprofit Democracy Works, the Civic Alliance has built a community of more than 1,250 businesses with a reach of over 5.5 million employees.

Personally, I’m encouraged by the record voter turnout we have seen in recent years: 49.4 percent in the 2018 midterm elections and 66.8 percent in the 2020 presidential election. I am hopeful that this trend in increased voter turnout will continue and that we will break records in upcoming elections....

Read the full commentary by Natalie Tran, executive director of the CAA Foundation.

(Photo credit: element5-digital via Unsplash)

 

Review: The Tyranny of Generosity

March 11, 2022

Book_cover_Theodore M. Lechterman_The Tyranny of GenerosityFrom discussions about philanthropy’s ties to wealth generation and capitalism to its role in perpetuating systems of racial inequality, many important critiques have recently surfaced about the intervention of philanthropic giving in, and its impact on, society. In The Tyranny of Generosity: Why Philanthropy Corrupts Our Politics and How We Can Fix It, Theodore M. Lechterman advances a fresh critique of contemporary philanthropy through an exploration of how it supports, or hinders, the value of democracy. A research fellow at the Institute for Ethics in AI at the University of Oxford, Lechterman draws on political philosophy to thoroughly examine what democracy demands from philanthropic giving and the policies that structure it. The book’s conclusion is that philanthropy and democracy are perhaps intertwined, to the point that the democratic ideal cannot exist without philanthropy, but we must all work to shift philanthropic practice and the laws that shape it so that they support that ideal.

The book’s introductory case study of the Bezos Day One Fund—a $2 billion commitment to address homelessness and preschool education in the United States—is used to showcase how such announcements of mega-philanthropy actually “colonize what are essentially democratic responsibilities.” As the book goes on to show, democracy ensures that goods like affordable housing and education are governed collectively, but donor behavior like that of Bezos undermines the core commitments of a democratic society—“in which people are supposed to determine their common affairs together, on equal terms.”...

Read the full review by Sarina Dayal, research specialist at Candid.

Review: In Defence of Philanthropy

March 04, 2022

Book_cover_In_Defence_of_PhilanthropyDoes philanthropy really need defending? While never explicitly asked, it’s the question that’s implied throughout Beth Breeze’s treatise In Defence of Philanthropy. You might wonder why this fundraiser-turned-academic feels the need to state, once and for all, what philanthropy is and what it isn’t, to counter notorious examples of bad apples with the concrete and long-lasting good that philanthropy brings, and to encourage space for more philanthropy, not less, as we look for long-term solutions to ever-greater challenges both local and global.

According to the latest report from Giving USA, Americans—individuals, foundations, and corporations—combined to give away $471 billion in 2020, a 5.1 percent increase over the 2019 total. And if the issues of climate change, vaccine development, or supporting historically underserved communities are any measure, philanthropic dollars are doing ever-bolder work. What’s more, even with volunteers staying home in these pandemic times, more people—wealthy or not—are giving more of their treasure than ever before. From that point of view, we just might be living in a golden age of giving....

Read the full review by Daniel X Matz, foundation web development manager at Candid.

‘How do the humanities figure in a socially just world?’: A Q&A with Phillip Brian Harper, Program Director for Higher Learning, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

February 24, 2022

Headshot_Phillip_Brian_Harper_mellon_foundationPhillip Brian Harper joined the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in October 2020 as program director for the new Higher Education grantmamking area. As part of the foundation’s new strategy to prioritize social justice in all of its grantmaking, the program supports inclusive humanities education and diverse learning environments, with a focus on historically underserved populations, including nontraditional and incarcerated students. In January 2022, the foundation announced grants totaling $16.1 million to 12 liberal arts colleges in support of social justice-oriented curricular development in the humanities.

A literary scholar and cultural critic, Harper previously served as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University and, prior to that, taught at Harvard University and Brandeis University. He is the author of Framing the Margins: The Social Logic of Postmodern Culture (1994); Are We Not Men? Masculine Anxiety and the Problem of African-American Identity (1996); Private Affairs: Critical Ventures in the Culture of Social Relations (1999); and Abstractionist Aesthetics: Artistic Form and Social Critique in African American Culture (2015).

PND asked Harper about the Humanities for All Times initiative, the role of a humanities education in advancing social justice, and the insights he brings to those philanthropic efforts as an academic and a writer.

Philanthropy News Digest: The grants awarded through the Humanities for All Times initiative will support curricula “that both instruct students in methods of humanities practice and clearly demonstrate those methods’ relevance to broader social justice pursuits.” Can you give an example of what such a curriculum might include?

Phillip Brian Harper: Yes, it would include courses that not only familiarize students with certain bodies of knowledge that are relevant to humanities inquiry—accessible, for instance, through a specific set of texts or in a particular archive—but also consciously and explicitly train students in humanities methods for conducting research and analysis on relevant materials: archival investigation, textual interpretation, oral history interviewing, etc.

Furthermore, it would provide students with some concrete demonstration of how those methods can be put to use in real-world social justice work. To give an example, one of the institutions that has received a Humanities for All Times grant, Austin College, will establish 18 different “humanities labs,” each of which would focus on a pressing social justice challenge—for instance, contestations over the definition of U.S. citizenship, appropriate modes of historical memorialization, or medical ethics questions raised by the COVID-19 pandemic—and deploy humanities methods in exploring potential solutions to it....

Read the full Q&A with Phillip Brian Harper, Program Director for Higher Learning, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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