Within the next several years, the University of Houston-Victoria will offer three new minors that will focus on interdisciplinary areas including race, gender and disability studies, as the result of a national endowment grant to the university.
The university will receive a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency that is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the country. The university received one of the Humanities Initiatives Grants, which help strengthen the teaching and study of the humanities in higher education through the development or enhancement of humanities programs, courses and resources, according to a National Endowment for the Humanities press release. This is the first time the university has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“I am excited for this project because it will give our students an opportunity to learn more about important topics and communities in our population,” said Kyoko Amano, dean of the UHV College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences. “The humanities are more essential than ever for creating a socially just world. Our students will be able to see themselves in our curriculum and be more prepared to be a global citizen. This is a great opportunity for faculty development as well.”
The grant will fund a three-year project called “Interdisciplinary Humanities for a Diverse Campus: Building Minors in Race, Gender, and Disability Studies,” which will help create minors at UHV in the areas of race and ethnic studies, women and gender studies, and disability studies. Each minor will be rolled out one-by-one each year of the project, with the project officially kicking off later in the spring.
The director for the project is Amano. She will be joined by co-directors for each area. Co-directors of the project include Justin Bell, an associate professor of philosophy and chair of the UHV multidisciplinary studies department, who will oversee the creation of a disability studies curriculum; Nadya Pittendrigh, an associate professor of English and director of the UHV English program, will oversee the creation of a race and ethnic studies curriculum; and Saba Razvi, an associate professor of English & creative writing and director of the undergraduate creative writing program, will oversee the new women and gender studies curriculum.
Amano was inspired to bring together faculty members to apply for the grant after attending a session of the organization last year. The co-directors of the project were enthusiastic about the idea of creating a humanities-based curriculum. While UHV does not offer a sociology degree, students will be able to take elective courses in the new multidisciplinary areas. Most students can complete a minor in three to four semesters.
Each multidisciplinary area will have its own series of faculty workshops, where five members of the UHV faculty will be chosen to help create a curriculum. Each workshop is open to faculty from across the four UHV colleges, and faculty chosen to participate in the workshops to create a curriculum will receive a stipend. Each group of faculty members will create a curriculum of at least five courses for each minor before going through an external review and curricular approval.
Bell is excited about the opportunity to have faculty workshops so the team can find ways to integrate ideas from the humanities into other parts of the curriculum. He has studied the philosophy of disability and has researched how the philosophy of American pragmatism can inform how we understand what makes someone able or disabled, and what those categories mean for understanding the world, each other and our own embodiment.
“I think that adding more content to our curriculum that addresses race, class, gender, and disability is important because we all have lenses through which our understanding of the world is based,” Bell said. “By understanding how these lenses developed, how they change, and how they are related to each other is an important part not only of self-understanding but of understanding how to interact with each other. Thinking critically about how different people exist in the world and how those ways of existing matter is not only inherently interesting, but it prepares our students for their roles as active citizens, thoughtful neighbors and lifelong learners. In a global world with a diverse economy, understanding differences is fundamentally important.”
The minor in race and ethnic studies creates a place at the university where everyone is invited to the table in a spirit of open inquiry and problem-solving to address individuals’ shared fate and blind spots regarding race, Pittendrigh said. A space will be made for purposeful inquiry related to race and ethnicity, which will help students and faculty members develop an understanding of diverse perspectives. If students’ home cultures are clearly not only welcome at UHV but are considered worthy of academic study, they may feel a greater sense of connection and belonging here and may be more inclined to stick with their education.
“The minors also will more prominently reflect the demographics, histories and cultures of our students and our community,” Pittendrigh said. “The goal is for students to not only graduate but to take what they’ve learned back to their home communities. These minors will empower students to more effectively address real and pressing problems in our society. I am excited to be a part of this grant because it prompts us to ask how we can do better when it comes to race, gender and disability.”
Razvi is looking forward to a future at UHV where there will be a curriculum looking at issues affecting women, as well as men’s issues, the gender spectrum, sexuality and intersectionality. There are different concerns and issues around gender depending on the location in the country and in the world, and bringing students into these conversations will help them rise to a national scale when they graduate and enter the workforce, Razvi said. She also looks forward to seeing how each of these topics intersect in the curriculum.
“There are different cultural expectations of genders, and becoming culturally literate about these conversations happening around the world will help our students make sense of the bigger picture,” Razvi said. “Just as gender matters, it is important for us to think about race and disability. These areas all play a part in the conversation of how we can all be more social- and civic-minded. Education matters with how we live in the world, and these minors will help our students prepare to be good global citizens.”
In addition to workshops, there also will be a new speaker and discussion series where guest speakers will discuss related topics on each multidisciplinary area.