Mellon Foundation Grant Supports Creation of UVA Institute for Black, Indigenous Studies

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
(Photo: Sanjay Suchak/University Communications)

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $616,670 grant to the University of Virginia to create a research institute for interdisciplinary scholarship, teaching and cultural projects related to the intersection of feminist Black and Indigenous Studies.

Tiffany King, an incoming associate professor in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences’ Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies; Kasey Jernigan, assistant professor of American Studies and Anthropology; and anthropology professor Sonia Alconini will direct programming for the new Black & Indigenous Feminist Futures Institute (BFFI). The BIFFI also will serve as an institutional hub for cultivating new relationships and strengthening existing ones among scholars, artists and organizers working at the intersection of Black and Indigenous life.

“We’re taking a feminist approach to thinking about the kinds of marginalizations experienced in Black and Indigenous communities,” said King, who will assume the Barbara and John Glynn Research Professorship in Democracy and Equity at UVA this fall. “We also want to explore forms of Black and Indigenous community building that bring femme, LGBT, queer, trans and disabled people to the forefront. As a feminist project, BIFFI seeks to focus on the kinds of issues that often drop out of research that happens at the intersection of Black and Indigenous studies.

“We want to promote vibrant exchanges between Black and indigenous scholars, activists and artists from across the Americas over the next three years, including elders from the Black community in Charlottesville and elders from the Monacan Nation.”

A growing number of scholars in the humanities and social sciences have argued that research on the histories of the Americas, specifically North America, must contend with the intersection of slavery and settler colonialism. In recent years, the University of Virginia has examined its own legacies through a variety of initiatives, such as the 2013 Commission on Slavery and the University and a 2017 partnership with the Monacan nation to develop land acknowledgment protocols and scholarships for Monacan students.

Because of its own history dating back to its founding, and its willingness to confront these complicated historical threads, UVA is in a unique position to illuminate and promote productive explorations of these topics, King said.

“We’re taking the opportunity to address the complicated history at its really complex nexus of settler colonialism and slavery using a feminist lens, and I just think that UVA has the opportunity to open a conversation on that in ways that other universities don’t,” King said.

Over the grant’s three-year period, the BIFFI will sponsor a “Fellows-in-Residence” program, hold three summer institutes and develop a Black and Indigenous Studies certificate program that offers academic credit to UVA students.

UVA faculty members from the College’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies and the Departments of American Studies, Anthropology, Art, Global Studies, Psychology, Sociology, Spanish, Italian & Portuguese, Religious Studies, South Asian Languages & Cultures, and WGS have committed to join the program’s Intersectional Studies Collective.

“This is an exciting opportunity,” said Christian McMillen, Associate Dean for the Social Sciences. “The College has been increasing its strengths in both Indigenous and Black Studies in recent years, and the BIFFI will be a welcome addition.”

The College’s Democracy Initiative also has been an early collaborator, offering funding for the BIFFI’s first summer institute. More information on the summer event and the Institute will be released in the coming months.

“We have an incredible group of scholars who bring expertise, energy, and bodies of scholarship to this research who already are informing our programming plans,” said King, who is spending this semester at Princeton University as an Anschutz Distinguished Fellow. “There’s a particular kind of energy and momentum that’s here that really makes this effort a good fit and makes it a good time to start this Black and Indigenous Futures Institute.”