A New Opportunity for Exploring Race, Identity and Inequality

August 23, 2021

New theme, Race and Society.
Duke faculty are invited to submit proposals for projects in the new Bass Connections Race & Society theme.

Duke’s Bass Connections program announces a new theme, Race & Society, to support interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students in their exploration of race-related issues. This effort furthers the university’s commitments to anti-racism and to transforming teaching and discovery for the 21st century.

Tyson Brown will lead the Race & Society theme. He’s associate professor of sociology, director of the Center on Health & Society, and Duke’s inaugural Presidential Fellow. Through year-long project teams, summer programs and innovative courses, Bass Connections creates opportunities for faculty and students to conduct applied research that addresses societal challenges.

Tyson Brown.
Tyson Brown will lead the Race & Society theme.

“The new theme provides an exciting opportunity to elevate faculty/student engagement and research collaborations on race-related issues,” Brown said. His own scholarship examines racial and ethnic inequalities in health and wealth, and he’s passionate about facilitating learning beyond the classroom.

“Research collaborations with students have played a really important role in my career,” he said, “and it’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. I think that’s a key function that we serve as faculty — we can help students explore these issues together, and in the process, students learn about that particular topic but also more broadly about what it’s like to work on a team and build research skills.”

“Research collaborations with students have played a really important role in my career, and it’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.”

Bass Connections organizes research opportunities around five broad themes in which Duke has extensive disciplinary and interdisciplinary strengths. The new Race & Society theme taps into an impressive depth and breadth of scholarship across the campus.

“The Duke community has a great deal of intellectual capital as it relates to issues of race, racism and their intersections with society,” Brown said. “We have world-renowned scholars who are shaping our understanding of race in ways that have far-reaching consequences. There are so many folks here who are luminaries in their fields.”

“We have world-renowned scholars who are shaping our understanding of race in ways that have far-reaching consequences. There are so many folks here who are luminaries in their fields.”

Administered by Duke’s Social Science Research Institute, the Race & Society theme will provide “additional opportunities for our students to learn from these incredible scholars about the content,” said Brown, “and also about the research endeavor and other skills that will be useful for them in their careers.”

Race & Society replaces the Education & Human Development theme, which has supported 121 projects over nine years and created a lasting interdisciplinary community of faculty and students. Anna Gassman-Pines, who has led that theme since 2017, will co-lead this transition with Brown.

How to Get Involved

Bass Connections is now soliciting proposals for 2022-23 projects. Faculty can suggest projects that investigate how race intersects with various aspects of society and lived experience, such as the environment, human development, immigration, health and healthcare, music, art, literature, history, education, economy, gender and sexuality, work, religion, STEM, policy or community life.

“We’re conceiving this broadly in terms of the content and also the method.”

Graduate students and staff members are often included in Bass Connections proposals as team leaders or contributors.

“Because race is so foundational, shaping nearly every facet of society, a broad range of topics could fit here,” Brown emphasized. He hopes to receive proposals from all across the university. “We’re conceiving this broadly in terms of the content and also the method. Race scholarship covers a lot of ground methodologically, ranging from qualitative to quantitative research,” he added.
 
The first cohort of projects selected under the new theme will be announced and opened for student applications in January 2022.

Additional Leadership Updates

Charles Nunn, Janet Bettger and Phil Stern with students and colleagues.
Charles Nunn (in Duke shirt) with students in Madagascar; Janet Bettger (second from left) with students in China; Philip Stern with faculty, staff and graduate students at a Versatile Humanists meeting

Charles L. Nunn, Gosnell Family Professor in Global Health and a professor of evolutionary anthropology, will co-lead the Global Health theme. Nunn directs the Triangle Center for Evolutionary Medicine (TriCEM) and has helmed Bass Connections projects looking at disease transmission between animals and humans in Madagascar. Nunn replaces David Boyd, who steps down after four years.

Janet Prvu Bettger, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, is the new chair of the Faculty Advisory Council and the faculty leader for Bass Connections Open projects focused on health innovation and policy. Bettger has led community-engaged Bass Connections projects since 2016, including Help Desk — a partnership with Durham’s Lincoln Community Health Center to develop a student volunteer service that assists patients who face unmet social needs.

Philip J. Stern, associate professor of history will co-lead the Information, Society & Culture theme starting in January 2022. Stern will draw on his experience leading collaborative humanities projects as co-director of the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge and a Bass Connections project to computationally “read” maps from the medieval and early modern period. Stern is replacing Victoria Szabo, who served in this role for seven years.

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