Announcing Summer Institute!

Announcing Summer Institute 2016

Just Academic Spaces: Creating New Publics Through Radical Literacies

June 13- June 18 2016

The DK/Mellon 2016 Summer Institute will bring together faculty,
advanced doctoral students, and scholar-activists from the humanities and social sciences across the US and beyond to examine the current state of US higher education; explore productive dialogues between community organizations, activists, and scholar-activists; and work on collaborative strategies to create a more just academy. Together, scholar-activists and community partners will share how these collaborations build new, sometimes unexpected, kinds of publics between critical academic scholarship and community- based organizations.

Eligibility: Doctoral Students who have completed at least two years of course work, postdoctoral scholars, and pre-tenure faculty in contingent and tenure-track positions who are working on issues related to the topic of the Institute. Under-represented scholars and those who are at HBCUs and other primarily minority-serving institutions are especially encouraged to apply. Room and board is fully covered for the 15 successful applicants. If needed, financial assistance is also available for travel to Syracuse.

Application deadline: February 1, 2016 Notifications by: February 20, 2016

For more information and to apply, see or email DK Summer Institute at

The DK Summer Institute is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Reflections on DK – Sean Wang

Sean Wang is a PhD Fellow in geography at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. He received an MA from the same department and a BA in geography from the University of Washington. His research interests include family and child welfare, migrations, social and cultural geographies.

How did you first hear of Democratizing Knowledge (DK) and what drew you to the events?

SW: I had taken courses in Women’s and Gender Studies and I started the graduate certificate program. Chandra Talpade Mohanty sent me an email about one of the events and I went. DK is a really friendly outlet on campus where people have interesting and radical conversations not just about current events but events relevant to what’s happening in the US higher education institutions. I’m in Maxwell and radical politics – at least at the college level – are not a top priority. Women’s and Gender Studies and DK are great places for me to meet likeminded people and learn new things. I really enjoy all events DK puts on.

Sean Wang

Sean Wang

What do you think is the significance of DK, especially in the context of Syracuse University?

SW: Right now with the new Chancellor, it is important that organizations like DK exist. You can see from the new decisions he has made and the way they were decided that it is very important to have these spaces existing, like DK where people are looking at things critically and facilitating a lot of really great on-campus activism. Recently there have been a lot of amazing grassroots efforts, especially coming from undergraduate students, and organizations like DK can help sustain those efforts of student organizing as well.

How is DK relevant to your work?

SW: For graduate students, DK is important no matter the research because it is important to have a place outside of your home departments (if only for social purposes). For my own research on transnational migrations, the Settler Colonialism Panel was very interesting and I think one of the best DK events. I was interested in the topic but didn’t know much about it, and it helped me historically ground my research. The way to enjoy a lot of DK programming is to have an open mind and hear brilliant people talk on topics they know well. I was impressed by the level of conversation that the panel generated. I appreciated that people were criticizing, challenging and forcing each other to think of the implications of what they were saying. It was rare to see such a vibrant discussion for an audience of that size. I liked the strategy of pairing the panel with Scott Morgensen’s talk in LGBT Studies seminars and the chance to talk to panelists the next day.


DK Past Speaker Update Series – Marcela Olivera

Our Past DK Speaker Update series highlights the most recent and upcoming works of speakers DK has hosted in the past. Marcela Olivera came to Syracuse University on April 16, 2012 to give her talk “Changing the flow: Organizing Water Movements in Bolivia.” She sent this update with photos of her in Uruguay working with the public water utility Obras Sanitarias del Estado.

Group of people on stairs, some with hard hats

Olivera (far left) with Obras Sanitarias del Estado

During the last couple of years the focus of Marcela Olivera’s work has been promoting public and community partnerships among water utilities in Bolivia, Colombia and Uruguay. This new type of cooperation is based in solidarity and respect and under the premise that knowledge has no owner and that we all hold experience and expertise that can be shared.

She has also been writing. One of the main reflections that have been on her mind, for a few years now, has been the commons, the right to water and the strong tradition of autonomy in her country, Bolivia. Some of those reflections can be found here:

Three people under a OSE logo

Olivera (far right) with Obras Sanitarias del Estado


Syracuse University’s Democratizing Knowledge Project receives $500,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation

The Democratizing Knowledge Project (DK), a Syracuse University interdisciplinary collective of faculty and graduate students, has been awarded a four-year, $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund a series of summer institutes titled Just Academic Spaces: Creating New Publics through Radical Literacies. Co-directed by Professors Linda Carty and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, the institutes will bring together faculty, advanced doctoral students and activist-scholars from the Humanities and Social Sciences across the US to understand the current state of US higher education, explore productive dialogues between community organizations and activists, and scholar-activists in the academy and build collaborations and strategies to create a more just academy.

“For a number of decades now, higher education in the United States has been shifting under the influence of market principles, focusing on cutting costs and increasing profits, while distancing itself from communities who do not have access to its resources,” says Carty, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Sociology. “Correspondingly, the humanities and humanistic social sciences, which are often viewed as less profitable than STEM or industry-specific fields, have been devalued. Our goal is to figure out how collaborations among diverse publics may be used to forge strategies to create a just academy.”

15-20 scholars from across the country will participate in five days of workshops and site visits. The institutes will begin with an intellectual, pedagogical and curricular orientation using humanistic readings to situate the current state of higher education institutions and the communities in which they are located. Participants will partake in skills-building workshops along with visiting different community centers and sites with the goal of producing a final project that will create pedagogical and curricular responses to challenges at other institutions. The institutes will culminate in a two-day conference that will bring in community members to dialogue with participants and allow participants to reflect on bringing their new knowledge to their home institutions and communities.

“We will bring together activists—academic and non-academic, alike—to articulate how these collaborations can build new, sometimes unexpected, kinds of publics in the borderlands between critical academic scholarship and community-based knowledges and organizations,” says Mohanty, Distinguished Professor of Women & Gender Studies (WGS), and Dean’s Professor of the Humanities, “In the process, we’ll seek to identify the ‘radical literacies’ that are generated in these borderlands, understanding them as place-based ways of reading power relations and generating alternative possibilities for making knowledge, history, and community.”

After a year of planning and preparation, the first Institute will be hosted by Syracuse University in 2016. The 2017 Institute will be hosted by Rutgers University at Newark and the 2018 Institute by Spelman College. Syracuse participants in 2016 will likely visit La Casita Cultural Center, the New Dunbar Center, and Art Rage – projects that produce social justice interventions, validate marginalized experiences, and create radical literacies to empower their communities. “These centers have faculty ties to the DK Project and, thus, share our mission and vision,” says Carty, whose activism encompasses labor and HIV/AIDS issues.

Linda Carty

Movements to democratize American institutions of higher education in the 1950s and 1960s led to open admissions policies that admitted more poor and minority students and helped create many ethnic and gender studies departments. However, the rise of neoliberal policies of privatization, corporatization and commercialization created the current neoliberal, profit-driven university that values STEM over the Humanities and that excludes its neighboring community, which stands to benefit most from the university. Syracuse—one of the nation’s poorest cities, with a poverty rate of more than 33 percent—will serve as a natural laboratory for the DK Summer Institute.

“This neoliberal restructuring [of higher education] has created an exclusionary, unequal environment where everyone competes for resources and political power. Thus, only knowledge with a guaranteed quantifiable outcome is deemed to have value. For instance, humanities and social justice oriented curricula are being increasingly devalued, and seen as economically irrelevant, thus alienating neighboring communities and further marginalizing poor minority students and faculty of color” adds Mohanty, an expert in antiracist and transnational feminist theory.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty

Chandra Talpade Mohanty

Carty hopes that the DK Summer Institute will inspire participants to return to their home institutions and organizations and implement similar programs. “We want them to use the DK Collective as a model of collective, sustained community engagement that can be shared with different publics who are interested in community and academic knowledges and activism,” she says.

An expert in antiracism, Black feminisms, and Marxism, Carty is an advocate of Black women’s labor in the Americas and of Black women’s health care in the United States and the Caribbean. Carty has contributed essays to books and journals all over the world mostly on the topics related to her activism.

Carty enjoys a close association with Mohanty, whose work encompasses anti-capitalist praxis, anti-racist education, and the politics of knowledge. Mohanty is the author and editor of five books, including Feminism

Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Duke University Press, 2003), and is series editor of Comparative Feminist Studies (Palgrave/Macmillan). She has published more than three dozen essays, including “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” which has been used in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies courses worldwide for more than two decades. She works with various grassroots organizations, including the Municipal Services Project, a transnational research and advocacy group seeking alternatives to privatization in the Global South.

DK Project with UC Davis

The Democratizing Knowledge Project collaboration with UC Davis (L to R, DK Members asterisked): Suzy Zepeda, Dana Olwan*, Paula Johnson*, Chandra Talpade Mohanty*, Amina Mama, Linda Carty*, Margo Okazawa-Rey

Conceived as a Chancellor’s Leadership Project, DK prides itself on fostering a more open, inclusive, democratic culture in higher education. Since its inception in 2009, the collective has become a space for faculty members and students to showcase scholar-activism and to hold conversations about how to create a just academy, how to ensure recognition and respect for various bodies of knowledge, how to build awareness of and interrogate the hierarchical structure of knowledge production, and how to make knowledge production accessible to all.

DK Collective

The Democratizing Knowledge Project Collective: (L to R) Mario Rios Perez, Stephanie Fetta, Hayley Cavino, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Jackie Orr, Linda Carty, Silvio Torres-Saillant, Marcelle Haddix, Mary Rose Go (Missing: Paula Johnson, Dana Olwan and Carol Fadda-Conrey)

In addition to Mohanty and Carty, the collective is made up of Hayley Cavino, a Ph.D. candidate in Education; Carol Fadda-Conrey, Associate Professor of English; Marcelle Haddix, Dean’s Associate Professor of English Education; Silvio Torres-Saillant, Professor of English and Latino/Latin-American Studies; Paula Johnson, Professor of Law; Dana Olwan, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies; Jackie Orr, Associate Professor of Sociology; Mario Rios-Perez, Assistant Professor of Cultural Foundations of Education; Stephanie Fetta, Assistant Professor of Spanish, and Mary Rose Go, DK program assistant. The late Sari K. Biklen, Professor Emerita in the School of Education was a key member of the DK Collective for many years—she is sorely missed.


Photos from Diana Ferrus’ Performance Lecture

Diana Ferrus’ performance lecture was a success! Students, faculty, staff, and community members were deeply moved by her presence and her presentation.


Lecture & Performance by Diana Ferrus

Monday September 29, 2014
5pm – 7pm
Peter Graham Scholarly Commons

Diana Ferrus is an internationally-acclaimed South African poet, activist, and storyteller.  Her poem “I’ve come to take you home” for Sarah Baartman, a Khoi Khoi woman who was paraded in freak shows in 19th century Europe inspired the French Senate to vote unanimously to return Baartman’s remains to South Africa.   The poem is published in the French Law, a landmark in French history.  At her performance lecture, Diana Ferrus will trace the genealogy of her poem to Sarah Baartman, linking it to colonialism, apartheid, and the roots of the designation “Coloured” in South Africa.  She will read from her book I’ve come to take you home and discuss the significant impact the return of Sarah Baartman’s remains had on the people of South Africa.

CO-SPONSORS: Departments of Women’s & Gender Studies, Cultural Foundations of Education, African American Studies, Languages, Literatures, and Lingustics, and The Writing Program

View photos from the packed event in the slideshow below!

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DK Past Speaker Update Series – Dean Spade

Our Past DK Speaker Update series highlights the most recent and upcoming works of speakers DK has hosted in the past. Dean Spade came to Syracuse University April 1, 2013 to give his talk “Teaching the Politics of Occupation.” He sent this update with this photo with Reina Gossett and CeCe McDonald on the set of their video conversation.

Dean Spade, Cece McDonald, and Reina Gossett

Spade, McDonald and Gossett in conversation

In Fall 2013, Dean Spade co-convened a conference at Columbia Law School called “Queer Dreams and Nonprofit Blues,” convening activists and scholars to examine how philanthropic control and nonprofitization has narrowed the focus of LGBT politics over the last four decades. Click here to watch the panels.

Dean is currently working with the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW) on a series of 30 videos that address the themes of the conference, to be released this fall.   Dean has also been collaborating with BCRW and Reina Gossett on some other video projects about criminalization and prison abolition. You can watch Dean’s conversations with Reina Gossett here and Dean and Reina’s conversations with CeCe McDonald here.  To read Dean’s recent writing, go to

Dean Spade is an Associate Professor at Seattle University School of Law. He teaches Administrative Law, Poverty Law, and Law and Social Movements.