Revitalizing Our Commitment to Diversity
In 1921, Dr. Georgiana Simpson earned her PhD from the University of Chicago, making her one of the first African American women to earn a PhD from any American university. By 1943, the University of Chicago had awarded more PhDs to African American scholars than any other American university. Indeed, civil rights activist Dr. Benjamin E. Mays who received his Doctoral degree in 1935 would go on to become a significant mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Mays and the scholars that followed in his footsteps are often cited as exemplars of the success of the University’s evolving diversity measures.
The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, continues the legacy of Dr. Mays by striving to end racial disparity in the academy through encouraging mentorship, scholarship, and fellowship among students from underrepresented minorities and those who hold a deep commitment to the promotion of racial and ethnic diversity and equality in the academy. The University of Chicago has an important role to play in this effort, and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program is integral to the fulfillment of the University’s diversity goals.
Administratively housed within the Office of Vice Provost Melissa Gilliam, the MMUF Program compliments and furthers the goals of the Vice Provost and the University more broadly by cultivating the talents of a select group of undergraduates committed to ending racial disparity in the academy, and by providing support and access to graduate education to students who might not have been empowered to pursue advanced degrees. The MMUF Program at the University of Chicago ultimately furthers Dr. Mays’s commitment to mentoring by giving students the support and skills that they need to be successful scholars and by helping them build strong relationships with faculty.
The University of Chicago cannot fulfill its goal of being one of the nation’s elite institutions and producers of academics if scholarly life does not involve diverse experiences, backgrounds, perspectives, and theoretical orientations. Through mentorship and fellowship, the MMUF Program addresses important obstacles that face students of color on campus, including alienation and threats of stereotyping. In so doing, the MMUF Program supports the University’s effort to fulfill its broader goals of diversity by increasing the rate at which undergraduates of color go on to pursue doctorates, following in the footsteps of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays.
The MMUF Program at the University of Chicago refocuses the discourse on diversity away from a celebration of differences and toward an effort to build community in the face of disparity and inequality. The program itself mirrors the University’s commitment to inclusivity: all students, regardless of racial background, are eligible to participate, uniting for a common cause. Through the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, the University of Chicago has the opportunity to make great strides in ending racial disparity in the academy, fulfilling at once the need for increased diversity and its investment in remaining an elite institution of higher learning. The University has a rich history of being committed to diversity, but in a time when positive discourses of “diversity” are often stripped of any attention to disparity, inequality, or social justice, the MMUF Program remains a necessary reminder of the original reasons for the call to diversity.