Dedicated to the interdisciplinary search for creative solutions to some of the most gripping social issues — both on and off campus — the Wayne State University Humanities Center serves as a wide swath of common ground, for researchers, students and the greater Detroit community it serves.
Overseen by director Walter Edwards, the center has become a hub for ideas, hosting conferences and brown bag discussions about a range of social issues while also offering fellowships, grants and scholarships to support innovative research efforts.
“It is the only center that is clearly devoted to interdisciplinary work in the humanities, social sciences and the arts,” explained Edwards. “We do it in a variety of ways. Every one of our programs is interested in that, and we have constantly engaged the community.”
The Humanities Center hosts three major conferences a year, exploring topics relevant not only to Wayne State University but to the broader Detroit community. Past conferences have focused on themes such as incivility in American politics and social justice movements. Speakers for the day-long conferences are drawn from a pool of Wayne State University faculty, prominent Detroit activists, and notable faculty from universities nationwide.
At each conference, students and faculty have an opportunity to present their papers and proposals to compete for grants and funding for further research.
The annual Faculty Fellowship Competition gives faculty the opportunity to compete for summer funding to help pay for expenses related to research projects. The competition is open to full-time Wayne State University faculty in the humanities, arts and related disciplines. Additionally, the center’s Resident Scholars Program offers the opportunity to receive funding to support research and projects. Eight Resident Scholars are accepted each year.
“We give each scholar a grant to pursue a project,” said Edwards. “To promote interdisciplinary ideation, they meet regularly and discuss their projects. The group has to be drawn from a number of departments — that’s the way we try to encourage interdisciplinary fellowship.”
Ever mindful of the university’s engagement mission, Edwards said the Detroit community is always top of mind when the center plans its conferences. The center’s 12-member advisory board, comprised of faculty recommended from throughout WSU’s various schools and colleges and appointed by Provost Keith Whitfield, serves to provide administrative and policy guidance, carefully deliberating over speakers, conference themes. and fellowship and grant awardees.
The interdisciplinary discussion doesn’t stop at the conferences. Throughout the fall and winter semesters, the Humanities Center twice weekly hosts the Brown Bag Colloquium Series, informal lunchtime talks where faculty and students are encouraged to share papers and lead discussions on a variety of themes within humanities.
“Overall, the center is devoted to open interdisciplinary conversations among faculty and students in the humanities, arts, and social sciences,” said Edwards.