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September 11, 2023

Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, and Friends of Rutgers Humanities,

Welcome to the new academic year, and a special welcome to our new tenure-track and tenured faculty in the Humanities: Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science Zoe Jenkin, Assistant Professor of Art History Christina Knight, Assistant Professor of Linguistics Maria Kouneli, Associate Professor of English and Art History Ricardo Montez, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science Jake Quilty-Dunn, and Assistant Professor of English Evelyn Soto.  We are so glad to have you with us!

I am writing to highlight some exciting news about Humanities-led collaborations in research, teaching, and community engagement. 

When people ask me how our basic research in the humanities contributes to urgent social, educational, and policy challenges, here’s one answer: Critical AI @ Rutgers, which brings together scholars from all four SAS divisions and several New Brunswick schools, has quickly established itself as a prominent voice in national and international conversations about generative AI, ChatGPT, and the uses of large-data language models in education, industry, government, and other applications.  On October 6, they are hosting a virtual symposium “Critical AI Literacy in a Time of Chatbots: A Public Symposium for Educators, Writers, and Citizens.”  Registration is open and free.  The symposium complements the launch of Critical AI Literacy: Advice for the New Semester, which was prepared by Professors Lauren M.E. Goodlad from SAS and Sharon Stoerger from SCI in collaboration with the Rutgers AI Round Table Advisory Council and the Office of Teaching Evaluation and Assessment Research (OTEAR).  In August, the NEH announced that Critical AI @ Rutgers has been awarded a $250,000 grant to launch Design Justice Labs, a digital resource for student and community research into generative AI.

Here's another answer to the question of how humanities-led research helps us address urgent challenges in the public sphere: the upcoming launch of the Race and Gender Equity (RAGE) Lab, which will be directed by Professor Brittney Cooper, with major grants from the Mellon Foundation ($150,000), the Ford Foundation ($50,000), and the Ms. Foundation for Women ($25,000).  The RAGE Lab, hosted collaboratively by the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice and the Humanities Centers, will focus on Black feminist publicly-engaged and community-engaged scholarship, Black feminist digital knowledge production, and the question of online harassment of feminist thinkers.  These grants support RAGE Lab's first signature initiative, the Black Feminism in the Public Sphere Initiative. The Initiative includes a lecture series, a major stakeholder convening and launching of a large-scale research project on the problem of online violence, and a summer intensive workshop supporting contemporary and emerging public feminist scholars. 

There are two major curricular developments launching this September.  The most expansive change is the revision of English 101, formerly known as “Expository Writing” and now called “College Writing.”  As many of you know, English 101 is the single course taken by almost every undergraduate on the New Brunswick campus.  The mission of the course remains the same, but the structure, the syllabus, the projects, and the approach have been overhauled to make it more effective, more portable to other disciplines, and more engaging for our students.  You can read an excellent article about these changes here.  

One of the most important outcomes of the English 101 revision is the development of English 104, an extended version of English 101 for students who need extra support.  English 104 will enable as many as 1200 students annually to complete the College Writing requirement in one semester rather than two.  This is great news for our students, since they’ll be able to use that extra time to take electives, complete another Core requirement, or advance in their majors and minors.  English 101/104 begins this semester with an essay called “Why Italian?” by the bilingual writer, translator, and literary critic Jhumpa Lahiri.  Professor Lahiri will be visiting Rutgers to discuss language, culture, and identity, in conversation with translatorGioia Guerzoni, on September 18 at 4 pm in the Academic Building, room 2400.  This event is free and open to the public.

September marks the launch of the Public Humanities Graduate Certificate.  This certificate, also the outcome of many years of planning and design, will provide opportunities for Rutgers graduate students to engage in cross-departmental and interdisciplinary learning experiences focused on the collaborative production of humanities knowledge for and with communities.  The graduate certificate is co-directed by Professor Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan and Associate Dean of Humanities and Professor Jorge Marcone.  It is affiliated with our Graduate Public Humanities Summer Internship Program, now entering its fourth year, which funds experiential learning opportunities that place graduate students with community partners such as arts organizations, publishers, magazines, and civic agencies.  You can read more about these programs and our Public Humanities Initiative here.

Finally, a message about one of our most significant collaborations across Humanities departments and programs.  In 2022-2023, the chairs of the language and literature departments worked together to develop several new initiatives that would advance a culture of languages at Rutgers, with a particular focus on engaging our undergraduates across the entire New Brunswick campus.  In September 2022, we launched those initiatives as the Year of Languages, which is scheduled to run officially through December 2023 but which has generated a number of multidisciplinary collaborations, student projects such as videos and essays, and new programs that will continue well beyond the calendar year.  

One of the YoL’s continuing programs is the Language Course Open House, which will take place during the week of October 16 to October 20.  Students will be able to visit a language class in which they are not enrolled, selecting from the enormous range of languages we offer on campus.  What is like to learn Arabic?  Spanish?  Korean?  Polish?  Instructors will be opening their classrooms to any Rutgers student who would like to find out.  We will be distributing information about class schedules and a sign-up procedure later this month.  The Open House – really, Open Classrooms – will give students across disciplines and schools an opportunity to consider how language study might fit their personal and professional goals, as well as their schedule, in advance of Spring 2024 registration.  You can write to Daniel DaSilva, Faculty Fellow for the Year of Languages, with questions or suggestions.

I am enormously proud of the work we do together, and I am grateful to you for everything you do to generate vibrant and diverse intellectual opportunities for our students, our colleagues, and our community.


Rebecca Walkowitz

Dean of Humanities

Distinguished Professor