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Initiative connects grad students with Black archives through racial equity grants

Black Metropolis Graduate Assistantships will preserve, amplify Black voices in Chicago
black voices
Ph.D. student Alexandra Gonzalez leads a project at the Shorefront Legacy Center.

Northwestern University graduate students are invited to apply by April 16 for a new assistantship program created to preserve and amplify Black voices in partnership with the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC), a Chicago-based membership association of libraries, universities, museums and community arts organizations.

With support from Northwestern’s Racial Equity and Community Partnership Grant Program and The Graduate School (TGS), the University’s Center for Civic Engagement and the BMRC will embed Ph.D. students within Chicagoland cultural organizations to support projects that preserve and amplify Black histories through the Black Metropolis Graduate Assistantships initiative.

The Racial Equity and Community Partnership Grant Program will provide each host organization with a $5,000 grant to support project implementation and administrative costs, while TGS funding will support a small cohort of Ph.D. students as they tackle projects that expand access to Black historical collections and develop new skills and professional competencies. The graduate assistants will also be supported with training by the BMRC and Northwestern faculty.

“Connecting graduate students with supportive communities and engagement opportunities is part of our mission,” said Kelly Mayo, dean of The Graduate School and associate provost for graduate education. “These new assistantships strengthen our efforts to champion a diverse and inclusive community of scholars and facilitate impactful scholarship and dialogues that promote meaningful change.”

Shorefront Legacy Center served as a host organization in the 2021-22 pilot year. Third-year Ph.D. student Alexandra Gonzalez led an oral history project pairing Northwestern students with Black Evanstonians and processed and transcribed archival materials.

“My work at Shorefront Legacy Center allows me to use the skills I've developed at Northwestern in service of the Evanston community,” Gonzalez said. “In addition to supporting a community archive and preserving Black history on Chicago's North Side, I’m gaining invaluable experience in community-engaged work and project management. Most important, I’m helping students — and myself — build meaningful relationships with longtime Evanston residents.”

2022-23 community partners

Through a competitive application process, two BMRC organizations were selected to host graduate assistants in the 2022-23 school year: South Side Community Art Center and Newberry Library in collaboration with the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project. Over the course of nine months, Black Metropolis Graduate Assistants will support projects designed by their host organizations, which include:

  • Researching, preserving, cataloging and supporting exhibition preparation for unprocessed archival materials, including papers and artworks from the Margaret Burroughs Estate, at the South Side Community Art Center.
  • Supporting eight Chicagoland Black dance companies in compiling their archives and preserving the city’s history of Black dance, as part of a collaboration between Newberry Library and the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project.

Ten of BMRC’s 21 member organizations applied to host a graduate assistant in the 2022-23 school year.

“The demand illustrates the importance of intentionally developing and supporting opportunities to document, share, understand and preserve Black experiences,” said Marcia Walker-McWilliams, executive director of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium. “We’re excited to support a program that elevates Black historical collections and centers equity in institutional practices through engaged professional development for Northwestern graduate students.”

The Black Metropolis Graduate Assistantship program is an extension of the Center for Civic Engagement’s mission to provide Northwestern students with high-impact experiential learning through mutually beneficial partnerships with public interest organizations. One goal of the BMGA initiative is to create a sustainable, ongoing connection between the University and community partners working on important racial justice and equity issues in and around Chicago.

Students interested in a Black Metropolis Graduate Assistantship can learn more at Applications will remain open until April 16.