UTSA Receives $5 Million Mellon Grant for Racial Justice Efforts

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UTSA has been awarded a three-year, $5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the university’s community partnerships in advancing racial justice. 

The grant, administered through the Mellon Just Futures Initiative, supports visionary, unconventional, experimental and groundbreaking projects that address the long-existing fault lines of racism, inequality, and injustice within democracy and civil society. 

UTSA’s project—Democratizing Racial Justice—will be a transformative, community-based People’s Academies for Racial Justice. Through the People’s Academies, selected community fellows and faculty fellows will collaborate on a public-facing project each year of the grant as determined by that cohort. Grant funding will further support community dialogues with key scholars working in fields related to social justice. The project was developed and will be led by Jackie Cuevas, associate professor and assistant chair of the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality Studies and director of the Women’s Studies Institute. Project co-leads are Alejandra Elenes, professor and chair of the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Rhonda M. Gonzales, professor and chair of the Department of History. 

“These academies represent a path-making effort to bring together activist-scholars, students and community members to formulate community-centric, ethical collaborations where people of color remember histories, respond to community needs, conduct collective research and imagine thriving futures where racial justice is possible,” said Cuevas. 

Project partners include the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, which will manage and promote an online repository of DRJ archives, including oral histories, public murals or other materials. The nonprofit Esperanza Center, led by director Graciela Sanchez, will serve as the anchor community organization for facilitating the People’s Academies. Northwest Vista College will serve as institutional partner for the companion Educators’ Academies for Ethnic Studies and Sandra Garza, coordinator of the Mexican American Studies Program at Northwest Vista College, will serve as project liaison for participating Alamo Colleges District campuses. 

“Higher education plays a key role in simultaneously advancing the social mobility of individuals and promoting stability and prosperity of our communities,” said Kimberly Andrews Espy, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Hispanic Serving Institutions such as UTSA can play an even larger role in addressing inequality and injustice because of our longstanding commitment to advancing educational attainment for underrepresented groups.” 

Overseen by the Mellon Foundation’s Higher Learning Program, the Just Futures Initiative was launched in 2020 to address systemic inequities that disproportionately impact communities of color, as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The programs seek to improve access to and accelerate demographic transformation in higher education and to support humanities education that builds and centers more complete and accurate narratives for a fuller account of the human experience. 

UTSA is one of only 16 universities in the U.S. and the only institution in Texas to be awarded a grant through the Just Futures Initiative. 

“The DRJ project was conceived to leverage our department’s and UTSA’s own interdisciplinary strengths in the humanities, ethnic studies and intersectional gender studies, and then build on those strengths through the external partnerships,” said Elenes. “DRJ was developed as an academic-community collaborative—and one that will serve as a model for innovative humanities and ethnic studies education in the region.” 

In total, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is awarding more than $72 million to support multidisciplinary and multi-institutional collaborative teams producing solutions-based work that contributes to public understanding of the nation’s racist past and can lead to the creation of socially just futures.


-Rebecca Luther