Gender, Women’s Studies earns $100,000 to expand community

The University of Rhode Island department of gender and women’s studies received a $100,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation’s higher learning program in order to maintain the relevance of the humanities.

The Mellon Foundation is the largest funder of the arts and humanities in the United States, according to their website . Through their grants, the Mellon Foundation seeks to build communities built on critical and empowered thinking.

“Part of what we do as an institute of higher education is helping people think about the world they live in,” Jeannette Riley, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said. “How they see it, how they engage with one another in that world, that is what creates better communities.”

Building upon the University’s Carlson Endowed Lectures, the grant will provide research opportunities to students, fund a conference and expand the Carlson public lecture series from two to four, Riley said. The lecture series seeks to develop a dialogue on how human rights intersect with gender and sexuality.

The grant is funding a one-day regional conference during the spring 2025 semester that will feature graduates and scholars from across New England, Kathleen McIntyre, associate professor of gender and women’s studies, said.

The members of the conference are from New England in order to form a “research hub” for LGBTQIA+ issues at URI.

Bailey Thomas, the founder and director for the Roundtable for Black Feminist and Womanist Theory, will do a conference during the fall 2025 semester, McIntyre said. This will also include a presentation of Preity Kumar’s book, “An Ordinary Landscape of Violence: Women Loving Women in Guyana,” who is an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies at URI.

These events, which will focus on the experiences of Latin American, Caribbean and Black individuals through a LGBTQIA+ lens, are meant to increase awareness of such topics, Riley said.

One aspect of the Mellon Foundation grant is to create a forum for the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color and women to discuss issues and progress, Riley said. The goal is to provide media representation that might not have been possible in the past.

“30 years ago, frankly, representation wasn’t there,” Riley said. “I never thought I’d live in a world where I could get married. I didn’t think it could happen.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and current anti-transgender legislation, URI is lucky to have the ability to put on activities funded by the Mellon Foundation grant, Riley said. She believes that it is URI’s duty as an institution to represent and educate its students.

“We have to remain vigilant because even though we have these rights, people can take them away,” Riley said.

URI has not received funding from the Mellon Foundation in 20 years, Riley said. The foundation giving this grant to the URI department of gender and women’s Studies speaks to the growing recognition of LGBTQIA+ issues.

Some students believe that the department of gender and women’s studies is just about women’s history, McIntyre said. However, she said classes within the department focus on contemporary issues and are useful to a wide range of students.

“Whether you’re a nursing major or a computer science major, you are going to get something out of our courses, and we value your perspective,” McIntyre said.

The department of gender and women’s studies had to write a proposal to the Mellon Foundation in order to be in the running to receive the $100,000 grant, Riley said. She believes that the Department’s proposal speaks to the value URI puts into student success, research and mentorship.

The Mellon Foundation’s grant will involve a student research project with Joy Ellison, assistant professor of gender and women’s studies, as well as field trips for students that take certain gender and women’s studies classes, McIntyre said. The field trips will be to relevant sites, such as New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts.

In addition to McIntyre, the faculty involved in writing the grant proposal were Kumar, Ellison, chair of gender and women’s studies Rosaria Pisa and associate professor of anthropology Hilda Loréns.

It is McIntyre’s dream for students to come to URI for its gender and women’s studies courses, she said. However, she believes that there is still more work to be done, and “more gender-neutral bathrooms [that] need to be installed.”