What is Transformative Learning in the Humanities? 

Transformative Learning in the Humanities, or TLH, is a three-year initiative supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant supports public talks, symposia, and workshops as well as a series of intensive peer-to-peer faculty seminars for CUNY faculty at all ranks (including adjuncts) in the humanities, arts, and interpretive social sciences. The program focuses on equitable, creative, student-centered pedagogical research and methods designed for the rich diversity of CUNY students; greater recognition for the importance of teaching; and the role of an urgent and indispensable humanities for the future of CUNY students and a more just and equitable society.  

What are the goals of TLH? 

(1) equitable, inspiring student-centered and CUNY-centered teaching and pedagogy; (2) greater recognition for the importance of teaching; (3) imagining an urgent, indispensable future for the humanities; and (4) integrate and institutionalize what we accomplish to achieve long-lasting transformation at CUNY. 

How can I get involved? 

CUNY faculty, including adjuncts, are welcome to apply to be a part of our peer-to-peer faculty seminars. If you are a CUNY faculty member organizing an event in Spring 2020, you can apply for co-sponsorship from TLH here. CUNY students and staff can propose ideas in our CUNY Academic Commons Group for public talks, symposia, workshops, and events (these could be events that align with our mission that would also support your Teaching and Learning Center or other ongoing initiatives at your institution). 

When will applications open?  

Applications for Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 faculty seminars will open on January 25, 2021. Applications are due March 15, 2021. Awards will be announced by May 3, 2021.

When will the faculty seminars take place? 

There will be six faculty seminars held across four academic semesters, starting in Fall 2021 and ending in Spring 2023. These seminars will support 100+ CUNY faculty, who will participate with the title of “Andrew W. Mellon Transformative Learning in the Humanities Scholars” (Mellon Scholars), as well as their students (Mellon Student Scholars). 

Who is eligible to apply for the faculty seminars? 

CUNY faculty in the humanities, arts, and interpretive social sciences at all ranks, including adjunct faculty. Faculty must be teaching during the seminar (your students will be invited to participate as Mellon Student Scholars). Faculty of color and faculty committed to diversity and equity in education are encouraged to apply. 

If I am not currently teaching due to the pandemic, can I still apply?  

If you don’t have a class, we’ll help you find undergraduate students to work with. In your application you can propose a lesson for a class at Freedom Prep, Undergraduate Peer Leaders, Homeschool Co-op 2020, or another organization. We will do everything possible for you to be able to apply and participate. This program and the humanities are about social equity, and we strive to live up to that and what it means to be human now in this moment. If there are adjuncts who are applying and who don’t know their course load for next year, and who don’t have students, the humanities are dexterous, and we will adapt. 

If I am not teaching because I’m going on leave/sabbatical, can I still apply? 

This is a three-year grant which means every semester will be different. One might go on leave, come back, or enroll in a different graduate program. You participate as a fellow for one semester, so if you aren’t available in one semester, you might apply for another one. We hope some early TLH fellows will then come back and lead other cohorts. 

What is included in “interpretive social sciences”? 

In general, “interpretive social sciences” is a term that refers to all those social sciences that in some universities are called a “social science,” and in others fall under the umbrella of the “humanities.” For example, cultural anthropology. We will have open-ended discursive questions on the application form so you will have a chance to make the case that what you do deals with the fundamental questions of the humanities. We welcome people who work perhaps in journalism school or nursing school or law school, for example, dealing with issues relative to this grant. The more we can make connections across not only our universities but also our fields and our convictions and our expertise, the better this program will be. 

What are the evaluation criteria used to review applications? 

We will have a committee that is as representative a committee as possible across different institutions to evaluate who we select for these groups. We want to make sure we have different schools represented, different departments, different fields, different aspects. There will be core commitments that we will spell out in the discursive application form where you will have an opportunity to offer a reason for why you want to be a part of the seminar and what you will bring to the program. The most important thing we will ask: “What will you—given the goals of the grant—be bringing to this seminar or to this workshop?” 

What is the commitment of participants in the faculty seminars? 

There will be one half-day workshop over the summer and then three meetings during the semester. In addition, faculty are asked to organize an event and contribute something to the general public (e.g., a blog, an op-ed, a public art performance, a community intervention) related to what they are learning and/or doing. Faculty will be given $1,500 in support. We are fully aware of the instability that this pandemic has created for so many of our important teachers who are teaching part-time at so many of the campuses. We will do everything possible to make sure that there is a way for participants to engage. 

We want this workshop to count in a very serious and practical way as research as people are going up for jobs and promotions. If you are an adjunct, then this could be useful for job interviews, for promotions, for three-year reviews, for files. Everyone will leave the seminar with something tangible to represent their contribution. 

Who will lead the seminars? 

One thing we want is for workshops to have their own passions that they are looking at. Based on a flipped classroom model, most of the focus will come from who happens to be the faculty involved and we will use all kinds of active learning and participatory learning methods—inventory methods and collaboration by difference, to name a couple—to make sure that everybody has a voice. Everyone contributes. It is not a top-down organization of knowledge but a participatory one. 

Can this grant support graduate students? 

Absolutely. There are lots of ways a graduate student can take part: the public events, for example. These will be public so even if you are not teaching, even if you just want to drop in and spend an hour, you can participate. Or if you really want to engage, you can propose an event and take the lead. If you are teaching part-time at CUNY, we have put out a call where we ask people to propose Spring 2021 events and organize collaborative events across CUNY programs that we are able to co-sponsor. Also, if you are teaching, yes, you qualify to become a TLH fellow.  

How can I participate outside of the seminars? 

There will be public programs that anyone can drop into and participate in and engage. Those public programs will be presented by teachers, all levels of teachers teaching. This is a peer-to-peer initiative and that means that everyone is contributing and that everyone has something to say and we can learn from each other. That is one way for lots of people to engage the work of TLH. 

Is curriculum development part of the initiative? 

This is something we talk a lot about: how this program also can develop humanities leaders throughout CUNY who go back to their departments and say, “Is there something else we can be doing?” We hope to start conversations about reimagining our curriculum in a relevant, urgent way that is designed for this historical moment—the crises and issues and prejudices and biases, but also the incredible explosion of impassioned exposure among young people demanding a more equitable and less racist society than they have inherited. How can our humanities courses answer to that in a profound way?  How can our general education respond to that? These are questions we hope to think about deeply together in these seminars and public events. 

Will CUNY community colleges be involved? 

All faculty, students, and staff from CUNY’s community colleges are welcome. Community colleges are core to CUNY.  

How can CUNY staff participate? 

There will be professional development events for staff, and we have an application form so CUNY people can propose ideas for co-sponsored events. 

What role do Black Studies, Ethnic Studies, and WGS programs play in this? 

Antiracist work is central to the work that this initiative is doing. The kinds of interdisciplinary interventions about power and about knowledge that are taking place in black studies, they are taking place in women and sexuality studies, on gender identity studies, in disability studies. These disciplines have very important contributions to make to how we are going to be transformative in learning in the humanities. This of course also means that all our colleagues are welcome. In many ways, these programs have already gotten ahead of where some departments are and give great models for how we can make a coherent, urgent curriculum without having the standard itinerary and syllabus of disciplines imposed on educators. Someone who has little or no experience in any of these areas is welcome too. We are all learning. We all need each other for us to evolve and thrive as teachers and as people who are learning alongside our students and as people who are empowering their students. 

How will you ensure this initiative doesn’t end with the end of the grant? 

In the final year we are excited to think about how we can integrate what we have learned and what we have done together into the institution so that we can move forward as a CUNY transformed by the humanities. We would like to make transformative humanities a part of the infrastructure of the university. In the last semester, we will be doing one seminar as well as several public workshops that will be geared toward how to continue this work.  

How will this program support existing antiracist programs and similar work being done at CUNY? 

We whole-heartedly support antiracist work. If you have ideas for a collaboration, such as a speaker or an idea for a workshop—something we should all be paying attention to right now—but you are overburdened and don’t have the capacity to take it on, bring these things to us in the CUNY Academic Commons Group.  

How do I share my ideas with TLH? 

You can contact us via email at TLH@cuny.edu or on Twitter (@TLH_CUNY), or join our CUNY Academic Commons group and post your idea in the forum there. In the Academic Commons, use your CUNY e-mail address to register/login and join the conversation. In addition, you will get an announcement whenever we post information right into your inbox.