Notre Dame launches interdisciplinary Initiative on Race and Resilience

Author: Josh Weinhold

MLK Candlelight Prayer Service (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)
Mark Sanders Headshot
Mark A. Sanders

The University of Notre Dame has launched the Initiative on Race and Resilience, a new interdisciplinary program focused on the redress of systemic racism and the support of diverse communities both within and beyond the Notre Dame campus.

Led by the College of Arts and Letters with additional support from the Office of the Provost, the initiative will bring together scholars and students in the humanities, arts, social sciences and other disciplines to challenge systemic racism and promote racial equity through research, education and community empowerment. 

“Our University mission calls on us 'to assist the world to create justice grounded in love,' and so we have a unique responsibility to support the study of race and to amplify the voices, gifts and talents of people of color,” said Mark A. Sanders, the inaugural director of the initiative and a professor of English and Africana studies at Notre Dame. “This initiative marks the creation of a think tank on race — an intellectual and physical space at Notre Dame where people will come together to address issues of race and racism, both systemic and interpersonal.”

Dean Sarah A. Mustillo
Dean Sarah A. Mustillo

Sarah A. Mustillo, the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said addressing issues of race in an academic and community context is closely tied to Notre Dame’s Catholic mission — which calls for respecting the dignity of every person and standing in solidarity for the pursuit of peace and justice. 

“This is an opportunity for Notre Dame to be a significant voice in the challenging, ongoing conversation about racism and the role it currently plays and has historically played in our society,” said Mustillo, who made creating the Initiative on Race and Resilience one of her top priorities when she became dean in 2018. “The College of Arts and Letters is determined to fight inequality through research, education and outreach, and this new initiative is an essential component of that goal.”

The initiative’s research endeavors will include annual internal grants for race-centered research, a scholar-in-residence position, postdoctoral and dissertation fellowships, a visiting scholars program, lectures and a biannual conference with rotating themes.

In the 2021-2022 academic year, the initiative will host two fellows in partnership with the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced StudyScott Alves Barton, a food scholar from New York University named by Ebony magazine as one of the top 25 African American/Diaspora chefs, and Reginald Dwayne Betts, an acclaimed author, National Magazine Award-winner, Guggenheim Fellow, and Yale Law School graduate.

Academic programs developed through the initiative will emphasize interdisciplinarity and comparative studies of race and ethnicity. It will offer course development grants, pedagogy workshops with the Kaneb Center for Teaching Excellence and the Center on Literacy Education, a faculty-student mentorship program for students of color and educational outreach efforts.

The initiative also seeks to empower African American communities and other communities of various racial and ethnic backgrounds through engagement opportunities, especially through the arts. It will sponsor a community book club and host or co-sponsor anti-racist programming such as art exhibits, theatrical productions and film festivals. 

Sanders said the initiative plans to create campus-community dialogue events, develop programming for K-12 classrooms and host a summer program for potential first-generation college students. An artist-in-residence and practitioner fellow program will bring creators, policymakers and community organizers to campus for collaborative sessions with scholars and students.

“Our approach will be to celebrate communities of color and all they have to offer — and the arts are a means by which those communities assert a recuperative sense of identity,” Sanders said.

Research and education pursuits will be organized around a series of rotating themes, with topics changing every two to three years. A theme on race and the environment, for example, would include hosting a visiting scholar conducting research in that area, a practitioner fellow addressing environmental racism, undergraduate courses covering global warming’s economic impact on communities of color or the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and arts exhibits or events that address those themes. 

“In every facet of the initiative, we will attend to the critical tension at the heart of the concept of race — race as a tool of colonization and race as a site of resistance and resilience,” Sanders said. “Through all of our work, we will strive to cultivate an atmosphere of inclusiveness and scholarly excellence.”

Originally published by Josh Weinhold at on Jan. 18.