Title VI National Resource Centers and the Publicly Engaged Humanities

Over the past several months, I have had conversations with directors and program coordinators at Title VI National Resource Centers (NRCs) to gather publicly engaged humanities projects to add to the Humanities for All database.

These campus-based centers receive funding from the Department of Education to deepen understanding of world regions and cultivate language expertise. As part of that mandate, they teach at least one modern foreign language; provide instruction for research and training in fields needed for full understanding of areas, regions, or countries; and provide opportunities for instruction, research, and programming on important issues in world affairs. In addition to supporting students and faculty on campus, Title VI centers have a mandate to engage audiences beyond campus to deepen understanding of their world region. I have been interested in understanding the full range of public humanities initiatives these centers have launched to address needs specific to their world regions and local communities.

Thinking thematically across the many publicly engaged projects that I learned about during these conversations, four key themes emerged: 

  • The use of language instruction to support community organizations in meeting the needs of their communities. 
  • Partnerships with local and international cultural organizations to create long-term opportunities for cultural exchange for students and community members.
  • Partnerships with community-based organizations to do mutually beneficial research around region-specific topics.
  • Digital humanities projects that prioritize broadening access to cultural artifacts and knowledge.

These broad categories demonstrate how NRC directors and other staff are using their educational outreach mandate to think about how best to contribute to their communities. Here I hope to offer a couple brief examples of projects that fall under categories one and two, and in the coming months I hope to surface more examples for the Humanities for All database that work across these themes. 

Innovations in Language Learning 

It has long been common practice among NRCs to host intensive summer language programs for K-16 teachers and fund international travel for undergraduate and graduate students to gain immersive language experiences. Beyond these efforts, some Title VI centers use their language programs as tools for building community partnerships and encouraging civic engagement. At the University of Arizona, the Latin American Studies Center has maintained a longstanding partnership with Casa Litas, a Tucson-based nonprofit that provides support services for migrant families. To support Central American immigrant families, Arizona’s LASC has worked with Casa Litas to create language training programs for volunteers in Kaqchikel, a Guatemalan indigenous language. The center also supports student internships with the organization as well as a public speaker series that brings subject experts to speak on topics related to immigration and asylum. At Cornell University’s Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the South Asian and Southeast Asian programs joined together to create an Afterschool Language and Culture Program that has introduced thousands of children in upstate New York to world languages and cultures. Volunteers from Cornell and surrounding communities who speak foreign languages provide fun ways for K–12 students to learn about and engage with our increasingly interconnected world. In past years, program volunteers have taught in Tagalog, Mandarin, Spanish, and Hindi. 

Creating opportunities for cultural exchange 

As dedicated hubs for engaging region-specific topics, many NRCs have partnered with local and international cultural organizations to create lasting opportunities for cultural exchange for students and community members. These partnerships extend the reach of the academic center beyond the university proper, creating a web of infrastructure that brings individuals together around common interests in world affairs. The Ubuntu Dialogues Program is a partnership between Michigan State University’s African Studies Center and The Stellenbosch University Museum in South Africa. The project includes three main components: virtual student dialogues, a seminar speaker exchange program, and a student internship program. While weekly student dialogues between MSU and Stellenbosch students are focused on contemporary issues facing young people from historically disadvantaged groups across the Atlantic, the seminar focuses on transforming institutions through scholarship across the two universities. An internship exchange program allows students to gain skills in the cultural sector, including several opportunities to intern at cultural organizations in both Michigan and South Africa. 

In the sphere of K-12 outreach, the Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University are supporting the creation of Latin American gardens throughout the Durham community in partnership with Durham Public Schools to teach youth about the agriculture and environment of different Latin American countries. Working in teams, students plant fruits, vegetables, and other plants native to Mexico, Central America, and South America in the garden and learn how to work in it successfully. The consortium has also created a Latin American Garden Resources guide and a Latin American Gardens Book Set which includes K-5 picture books about gardening and food in Latin America while encouraging Spanish literacy.

We are looking forward to exploring these themes further at the NHA Annual Meeting next week. For those who are attending this year’s Virtual Annual Meeting and are interested in learning more about the work of National Resource Centers, be sure to check out the sessions dedicated to advocating for Title VI funding on campuses and in communities. 

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