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CUNY Awarded $5M to Expand Black, Race and Ethnic Studies Initiative

Funding will launch New York’s first dedicated graduate degree program in Black, Race and Ethic Studies.

The City University of New York (CUNY) received $5 million from the Mellon Foundation to expand its Black, Race and Ethnic Studies Initiative. The latest grant will allow CUNY to launch New York’s first dedicated graduate degree program in Black, Race, and Ethnic Studies (BRES).

“Amid a nationwide effort to undermine the very concept of diversity and inclusion, the new graduate program in Black, Race, and Ethnic Studies (BRES) will provide a much-needed resource to drive social change, open new avenues of opportunity for our students, and sustain CUNY’s mission to uplift New York’s most underserved communities," said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez through a news release.

Over the next five years, the grant will provide $2.3 million to support incoming Ph.D. students and $2.7 million to hire new faculty. The BRES Ph.D. program adopts a “discipline-plus” structure. While fulfilling traditional curriculum requirements, students will complete a series of multidisciplinary BRES seminars. This unique structure is designed to provide students with an advantage in the academic and non-academic job market, qualifying them for positions in their chosen field while placing them at the cutting edge of scholarship. The Graduate Center will also offer a related Master of Arts degree in BRES. 

The new BRES graduate program is the culmination of efforts that began in 2020 when the Mellon Foundation granted CUNY $10 million to expand initiatives related to the pandemic and racial justice, including $3 million to reimagine its commitment to inclusion and scholarship. 

To advance the study of race and ethnicity throughout CUNY’s 25 colleges, the council invited faculty and staff to submit funding proposals for courses and research. Out of 500 applications, 126 applicants received upwards of $1.8 million to create more inclusive curricula, increase opportunities for students to engage in research and internships and improve campus climate.

Funded projects include:

  • Flatbush African Burial Grounds: Brooklyn College students participated in a semester-long, paid internship with the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition (FABGC), connecting their studies in anthropology and sociology to the present-day struggle for racial justice in Brooklyn. 

  • Digitizing the Diaspora: Chinatown Mothers’ Pandemic Feminist Organizing through WeChat: Kingsborough Community College’s Lili Shi, professor of communications and performing arts, undertook a digital ethnography to investigate how an online mothers group in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park Chinatown used WeChat, a social media platform from China, to create a diasporic and feminist space for each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alongside these awards, a grant of $250,000 was allocated to support the BRES Collaboration Hub. Established in the spring 2023, the Hub serves as a mechanism for convening faculty and doctoral students interested in interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary research in BRES across CUNY. In 2024, the Hub was awarded $550,000 in funding from the Chancellor’s Strategic Investment Initiative Fund to establish the BRES Research Seed Grant Program to support faculty research across the University. For academic year 2024-2025, it is expected to support up to 30 projects ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 each.