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Rutgers University–Newark A Part of Coalition Awarded $250,000 Grant by National Endowment for the Humanities

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The National Endowment for the Humanities has announced a $250,000 grant to The New School’s Humanities Action Lab (HAL), a coalition of 20 universities, including Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N), collaborating to produce student- and community-curated public projects on pressing social issues.                     

The funds will support public dialogues around HAL’s current project, “States of Incarceration,” a traveling exhibit, web platform, and curricula focusing on mass incarceration. Today, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world and at any other moment in its history, with deep racial disparities in the system enforcing inequalities in American society.

To tackle this pressing issue, HAL invited students and people directly affected by incarceration in 20 cities to explore their own communities’ experience with incarceration: how it evolved historically and what issues remain today. Each team created one local “chapter” of what will be compiled into a collective, multi-faceted portrait of incarceration, past and present, framed by the key questions these histories raise. The exhibition will open at The New School’s Sheila Johnson Galleries in April 2016 and, over the next three years, travel to each of the 20 communities that created it. The RU-N exhibit will open at The Gateway Gallery in Newark, New Jersey, on Oct. 19, 2017, and end on Dec. 16, 2017.

Rutgers University–Newark’s exhibit focuses on immigrant detention. In 1995, an Elizabeth, New Jersey, detention facility – run by Esmor Correctional Services – erupted into a riot when a predominantly African group of asylum seekers protested the inhumane conditions of their detainment. The riot led to a successful lawsuit against Esmor –  prosecuted by RU-N’s Constitutional Law Clinic, which was the first time detainees were given the right to sue a private corporation. The exhibit delves into this forgotten story of detainees resisting their confinement.

“This Humanities Action Lab project addresses critical, important national issues about criminal justice,” said Rutgers University–Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “Coming on the heels of President Obama’s visit to Rutgers-Newark to culminate his national tour and advocate for major criminal justice reforms, this grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities is perfectly timed to help the HAL coalition advance the discussion by raising awareness. We are thrilled to partner with so many other higher education institutions in this initiative and profoundly grateful to the NEH and its chair, ‘Bro’ Adams, for their generous support.”

Rutgers University–Newark’s participation in the Humanities Action Lab is led by Tim Raphael, associate professor of Arts, Culture, and Media, and Mary Rizzo, associate director of Public & Digital Humanities Initiatives in the American Studies program. The exhibit was developed by RU-N graduate students in the American studies and history departments, in collaboration with the Newest Americans project and two community partners – the American Friends Service Committee and First Friends.

The exhibition, designed by the firm Matter Practice, will coincide with a national public forum at The New School April 14-16. The forum will provide a space for students, stakeholders, scholars, and policy experts who worked on the project to come together and engage in a national dialogue on incarceration. The forum will feature tactile interactives, digital polling, and face-to-face dialogues. As the exhibit travels, local partners will host dialogues in their communities, in exchange with partners in other cities working on related issues. 

A web platform, designed by the studio Picture Projects, will expand on the travelling exhibition and provide a medium to connect communities across the country.

“This grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, one of the nation’s largest funders of humanities programs, will enable us to explore how Americans have grappled with incarceration in the past and how it has profoundly shaped generations of people in each of our communities,” said Liz Sevcenko, director of HAL. “We hope by coming together to exchange diverse local histories and collective memories, we can foster new national dialogue on how to move forward.” 

“The pressing challenges facing our nation call for dialogue and understanding,” said NEH Chair William D. “Bro” Adams. “There is ample evidence that communities across the nation are eager to come together to discuss the critical issues that face them as citizens and neighbors. Using the unique insights of the humanities, the Humanities Action Lab project will bring new audiences and organizations together in ways that address compelling public concerns.”

In addition to Rutgers University–Newark, universities partnering in States of Incarceration are Arizona State University, Brown University, DePaul University, Duke University, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Northeastern University, Parsons Paris, Rutgers University–New Brunswick, Skidmore College, The New School, University of California, Riverside, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Miami, University of Minnesota, University of New Orleans, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, University of Texas at Austin, and Vanderbilt University.

The Humanities in the Public Square grant program is part of Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, a new initiative to foster innovative ways to make scholarship relevant to contemporary issues.

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Photo credit: NJ Advance Media