Humanities Education for Anti-racism Literacy (HEAL) project receives a $5 million dollar grant from the Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative 

May 4, 2021

The UW-Madison Libraries is pleased to share the interdisciplinary Humanities Education for Anti-racism Literacy (HEAL) in the Sciences and Medicine project recently received a $5 million dollar grant from the Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative

Three Libraries staff will be lending their unique expertise to the project: Todd Michelson-Ambelang (Senior Academic Librarian, Area Studies and ADA Accessibility Liaison for Public Services), Troy Reeves (Head, Oral History Program), and Robin Rider (Curator of Special Collections).

They are joined by co-PIs: Cheryl Bauer-Armstrong (Native Education); Christy Clark-Pujara (Higher Education); Elizabeth Hennessy (Coordinator and Higher Education); R. Justin Hougham (Environmental Education & Equity); Erika Marín-Spiotta (STEMM Higher Education); Maxine McKinney de Royston (Learning While Black); Monica M. White (Community Engagement); and Cleo Woelfle-Erskine (Native Education).

To ensure the work of anti-racism is not left only to Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other minoritized people, this collaborative team of leaders was carefully chosen to represent a large, cross-racial, and interdisciplinary group of individuals who each bring different personal and professional experiences to the project. 

HEAL identifies two significant barriers to just futures in the sciences: lack of awareness of histories of racism in scientific disciplines, and lack of representation in STEMM. Through community-based partnerships, the project aims to better understand and more effectively address persistent underrepresentation by centering diverse student voices and telling a more accurate history of scientific exclusion.

“This project will help folks in the future to understand the racist culture and mistakes of our past and present and continue to move forward,” explains Todd. 

When one of the other PIs approached him to see what the Libraries might offer, Todd seized the opportunity. As a trained humanist who particularly enjoys public humanities projects, he agreed to serve as the coordinator and liaison for the Libraries. Finding the right person for the job is important to him, so he strategized who in the Libraries was best situated to participate in the project. 

As the only full-time oral historian on campus, Troy has a distinctive skill set that could be leveraged. “Since the project involves oral history and with underrepresented communities, I jumped at the chance to participate,” he says. Troy will serve as the oral history consultant and archivist for the project.

Robin’s involvement is a natural progression of work she has already been doing, including curatorial work on an exhibit entitled Science at UW-Madison: Sources for its History and her responsibilities as the Libraries liaison for history of science and technology. She is also a senior lecturer for the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology (HSMT) Program through the UW-Madison Department of History.

Robin says her HSMT colleagues, like so many others recently, have been engaging in discussions of anti-racist literacy and pedagogy in history and science, and through conversations with Professor Elizabeth Hennessy about relevant archival sources, she became involved with HEAL.

Robin’s principal responsibilities in the project will include identifying relevant archival sources, mining and expanding existing bibliographical sources, and continuing to build pertinent library collections.

All three of them see HEAL as a way to put the Libraries’ equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) work into direct action. “A lot of time in EDI work is spent strategizing,” explains Todd. “This [project] complements that active work.” 

Robin adds, “The demanding task of building – and interrogating – collections in support of research, teaching, and learning on issues of race and STEMM fits well with objectives of the Libraries’ Division of Special Collections and Archives, in turn, aligned with the Libraries’ dedication to principles and practices of social justice, diversity, and equality.”

It will also provide the opportunity to learn, or to unlearn and relearn, as Todd describes it. “I have lived a life of privilege, as a white educated person who identifies as a man. I know that I have made mistakes and will continue to do so. I hope that I will learn from these mistakes and unlearn the assumptions or beliefs that led me to make them.”

Troy agrees, saying he’s ready to be challenged. “Specifically, as a white CIS gendered male, I relish the opportunity to grapple with my privilege and learn to be a better member of the campus and the larger community.” 

The Libraries have long enjoyed a close relationship with the strongly interdisciplinary fields of history of science, technology, and medicine, due largely to the work of John Neu, longtime bibliographer for history of science at Memorial Library. Robin says he did much to build relationships and impressive library collections in support of research and teaching in history of science. 

John Neu’s decades as bibliographer for the History of Science Society and the work of his successors there have also meant that researchers in this field have access to deep and broad bibliographical resources to enhance their scholarship. “Such resources in and of themselves speak to the study of the topic of race and call out the need for reflection and deliberate expansion of bibliographical coverage,” Robin explains.

Over the next three years of the project, Todd, Troy, and Robin will be working with many different partners, both in and outside the Libraries, including our Diversity Resident Librarians; UW Archives and University of Wisconsin Digitized Collections staff; graduate students from History, the iSchool, and other campus programs; and colleagues from the historical collections at Ebling Library. 

Troy has already begun working with Professor Maxine McKinney de Royston and her students, which he’s excited about because it highlights the important role oral histories can have. He explains, “The work they will do with various communities of color in the city, which includes the collection of oral history, will show how oral histories and the humanities can play a critical role in unveiling hidden histories of discrimination and exploitation in society.”

HEAL is ultimately focused on learning primarily from the experiences of Black and Native peoples’ lived experiences to improve anti-racism education in the sciences and medicine to create a more equitable university and hopes to have an impact on our campus, local community, and beyond. 

Recognizing the importance and timeliness of this topic, Todd, Troy, and Robin welcome the opportunity to be involved in HEAL and hope their contributions will help inform efforts to understand and improve access and equity in STEMM and in higher education more widely.

HEAL project leadership team. Top row, from left: Maxine McKinney de Royston,
R. Justin Hougham, Cheryl Bauer-Armstrong, Erika Marín-Spiotta; Second row: Robin Rider,
Todd Michelson-Ambelang, Christy Clark-Pujara, Cleo Woelfle-Erskine; Third row: Monica M.
White, Troy Reeves, Elizabeth Hennessy.