I became Director of the Center in 2019, just a few months before the global pandemic changed all of our lives. During that most unusual 2020-2021 academic year we provided a range of online events to keep our community informed and engaged. In 2021-2022, while still facing challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the University Center for the Humanities returned to hosting in-person events and again provided important humanities-related events, activities and engagement for the campus and community, in person and online.
The speaker series, Courage, was conceived in early 2020, before COVID-19, and it was designed to acknowledge the 100th year anniversary of women’s suffrage. We felt the selected speakers were so outstanding and their messages so timely that rather than canceling our 2020-2021 series, we postponed it to 21-22.
The series brought to campus, both in person and virtually, a range of scholars, writers and activists whose work powerfully highlights diverse women’s experiences, contributions and commitments. We hosted Michigan Attorney General Dana Nestle, political scientists Christine Wolbrecht and Kevin Corder, historian Deirdre Cooper-Owens, attorney and Native American legal scholar Sarah Deer and poet and activist Denice Frohman.
In a new initiative designed to increase undergraduate student engagement, we inaugurated an Undergraduate Fellows Program, which this year we called the “Courage” fellows program, in a nod to our series and the role of the series in the student’s activities. Seven undergraduate students were selected to become Courage Fellows for the academic year. Fellows received a small stipend and in return were encouraged to promote our events on social media, and more crucially, engage meaningfully with our speakers. In addition to attending public presentations, fellows read the books of our Courage authors and met with them to discuss their work.
Despite the difficulties of Covid, the Center had much to celebrate this year as some long-term efforts brought success. In April, the Center, in coordination with the Climate Change Working Group (CCWG), was awarded a $34,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Connections Planning Grant to work on helping faculty incorporate teaching about climate change into their humanities courses. Many thanks to our partners from the CCWG, Denise Keele and Cybelle Shattuck, for working closely with the Center on this project.
I am especially pleased to announce that in July 2022, Dale Brown joined the Center as the Coordinator of Humanities Outreach. Dale’s primary responsibility is to expand the Prison Education Program he developed at Lakeview Correctional Institute while a graduate student. Dale will be developing curriculum for a one year Certificate program, a mobile degree in accordance with the Michigan transfer agreement, recruiting instructors and coordinating the institutional exchanges. Dale has a wealth of experience and knowledge in the education of incarcerated individuals and we are excited to have him join the Center and coordinate this new social justice initiative.
As this report documents in greater detail, we continued many of our regular series/events along with some new endeavors. These included hosting seven authors from our University community in our ongoing Books and Beer series, awarding a Graduate Student Paper Prize, coordinating our Humanities for Everybody program with the Ethics Center to provide an ongoing book club, funding two Interdisciplinary Humanities groups, and co hosting a series on digital storytelling with the University Libraries. Additionally, the Center now coordinates meetings of the Humanities chairs in an ongoing effort to raise the profile of the humanities on campus, and we conducted an online survey of faculty experience and needs in the digital humanities.
As this year came to a close, we continue to think deeply about our mission and how we can better serve faculty, students and the community in the coming year as we slowly work our way back to an in-person campus. While our activities may be different for next year as we try diversify our activities, our goal remains the same--to provide a space for intellectual and community life to flourish on our campus. We hope to see you at our events in 2022-2023!