UCLA to launch new social justice curriculum with $5 million grant from Mellon Foundation

The curriculum will pair social justice teaching with community engagement and instruction in data literacy, statistics and computational research methods. (Photo Credit: Ann Johansson/UCLA College)

A $5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will enable UCLA to further its commitment to social change and public service by establishing the UCLA Mellon Social Justice Curriculum in the divisions of humanities and social sciences of the UCLA College.

The funding will lay the foundation for a publicly engaged, data-driven approach to teaching and research on social justice issues, positioning more UCLA graduates to become social change leaders in their chosen professions.

“We are deeply grateful to the Mellon Foundation for enabling us to create new opportunities for our students to grow intellectually while obtaining the skills required to succeed in a host of professional careers,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the College and dean of humanities. “The social justice curriculum will empower our students to put their humanistic vision to work in the service of social change.”

The five-and-a-half-year grant will support wide-ranging curricular initiatives, new degree programs and community-engaged research. It will also allow UCLA to hire faculty whose research, teaching and service will strengthen diversity and equal opportunity on campus, in particular scholars with expertise in the field of experimental humanities, which includes digital, urban, environmental and health humanities.

The curriculum will focus on four intertwined social justice issues at the core of the experimental humanities: racial and spatial justice, data justice, environmental and economic justice, and health justice.

“Addressing complex social problems requires the interpretative methods, critical knowledge, historical perspectives and values infrastructure informed by engagement with the humanities, culture, arts and society,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences. “With this generous grant, the Mellon Foundation has given UCLA the means to transform what and how we teach by centering social justice, community engagement and the critical tools and methods for knowledge creation.”

UCLA’s strong community connections will be leveraged, in partnership with the UCLA Center for Community Engagement, through academic courses that mutually benefit students and community partners, student internships, and summer institutes and workshops. Courses tailored to the curriculum will offer instruction in data literacy, statistics and computational research methods, linked with the study of narrative and media-making.

An introductory course for freshmen titled “Data, Society, and Social Justice” — co-taught by interdisciplinary faculty teams with expertise on the environment, cities, health and racial disparities in Los Angeles — will focus on humanistic frameworks for understanding social inequalities and train students to assess the practical and ethical implications of data-driven approaches to social change.

The new curriculum is expected to attract the rising numbers of UCLA students who are committed to social justice issues but have been underrepresented in courses and majors that provide critical training in statistics, computation and quantitative research methods. These include students from low-income households, first-generation college students and those from historically underrepresented groups.

Schaberg and Hunt are co–principal investigators on the project. The faculty leads are Todd Presner, chair of UCLA’s digital humanities program and the Ross Professor of Germanic Languages and Comparative Literature, and Juliet Williams, professor of gender studies and chair of the UCLA social science interdepartmental program. Co-chairs of the faculty advisory committee are Safiya Noble, associate professor of information studies and African American studies, and Sarah Roberts, associate professor of information studies with affiliate appointments in labor studies and gender studies. Roberts and Noble also co-direct the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, which will play a key role in programming.

This latest Mellon grant to the College follows a five-year grant awarded in 2015 that supported innovative and more inclusive methods of humanities teaching and brings the foundation’s total support for UCLA to approximately $60 million.

This article, written by Margaret MacDonald, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.