Humanities Professors Seize ‘Urgent Moment’ With $350,000 Mellon Grant

Claire seiler and alyssa deblasio pose on a couch

Associate Professor of Russian Alyssa DeBlasio (left) and Associate Professor of English Claire Seiler will use the grant over the course of three years for faculty research and scholarship. Photo by Joe O'Neill.

Funding allows a reimagining of the study of disability and equity across the curriculum

by Tony Moore

Associate Professor of English Claire Seiler and Associate Professor of Russian Alyssa DeBlasio recently received a $350,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their proposal “Beyond the New Normal: Disability, Literature and Reimagining Social Justice.”

The grant was the second Mellon grant received by the college last year, and the funds will support collaborative faculty research, curriculum development, academic innovation and public-facing projects around literary treatments of disability and normality.

Ambitious project takes flight

“We’re thrilled to have been recognized by the Mellon Foundation in such a competitive application process and to now be in the very lucky position of getting to roll out this ambitious, research-driven project,” says DeBlasio, who is also the John B. Parsons Chair in the Liberal Arts & Sciences. “The grant will offer Dickinson faculty working in the humanities, literary studies and in literary disability studies sustained support for innovation in their teaching, including team-taught courses, and for working on both new and ongoing research.”

The grant, for work to be done over a three-year period, will fund faculty research and scholarship on the representation of disability and normality in and across diverse national literature—resulting in the establishment of a lasting network for literary study and for the humanistic study of disability.

And it also shines a bright light on the caliber of Dickinson’s faculty.

“This level of funding for literary scholarship is rare and precious,” says Seiler. “It’s a big win for the college, and it’s a testament to the strength of Dickinson’s incredible literature, languages and humanities faculty.”

Continuing work on institutional priorities

While diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have long been institutional priorities for Dickinson, and all humanities departments teach curricula that encompass the range of traditions and voices at the core of their disciplines, the college has taken several steps in recent years toward closing the gap between the administration of DEI and the academic program.

Beyond the New Normal expands on this work. It brings literature, literary research and humanities-based approaches to bear on both fostering the values and practices of DEI across the curriculum while deepening students’ grasp of the historical texture and cultural particularity of ideas of disability.

“The grant will also answer students’ welcome call for courses that more thoroughly study how various forms of privilege and stigma, access and discrimination, came to be—and thus for courses that prepare them, as alumni, to help create a more equitable world,” says Seiler. “The grant affords opportunities for student-faculty research and coursework that will undoubtedly make our students stand out among their peers, help them cultivate self-direction and intellectual self-awareness and build their capacities for all the unmeasurable habits of mind and qualities of attention that foster great careers and rich, full lives after graduation.”

The work emerging from Beyond the New Normal will bring attention to the ways in which literature has been used to exclude and marginalize disabled individuals, explore how literary expression also resists such exclusion and engage the campus in reimagining social justice for those with disabilities. And, as Seiler emphasized, the intent is for the work to have an impact far beyond the limestone walls of Dickinson.

“The community component will bring leading scholars, writers and artists to Carlisle, expanding the impact of this award beyond campus,” says DeBlasio. “Beyond the New Normal seizes on what is by any measure an urgent moment for reimagining disability, equity and the enduring value of literary study, and our hope is that these initiatives will seed much longer-term connections and synergies across departments and programs at the college, as well as among the wider community.”


Published January 25, 2023