SSD launches new partnerships with HBCUs

February 3, 2022 (last updated on July 13, 2023)

In collaborations that benefit all involved, the division is opening itself to new viewpoints by opening its doors to students and faculty from other institutions

By Sarah Steimer

The Division of the Social Sciences at UChicago has launched a set of partnerships with several HBCUs — historically black colleges and universities — that build relationships with their students and faculty around research in the disciplines that make up the social sciences.

SSD has established active partnerships with Chicago State University, Spelman College, and Florida A&M University and is working on a relationship with the Chicago City Colleges.

Efforts to bring underrepresented students into doctoral study in the past often revolved around what is called a pipeline approach, in which students were led from one institution into another. That has increasingly given way to more collaborative partnerships that offer benefits to all parties involved.

“The guiding idea behind our partnerships is not so much to recruit students to study at UChicago, although we are delighted if departments in the Division turn out to be a good fit for their interests,” says Mark Philip Bradley, deputy dean of SSD. “It is really about opening up opportunities for them to undertake deep dives into doing mentored social science research and to see if that work is a professional direction in which they would like to move. We are also keen to build relationships between HBCU and Chicago faculty who are working on similar issues and problems in the social sciences.”

The initial conversations started with Spelman, and they helped to shape UChicago’s overall approach to the partnership program. The UChicago team was keen to partner with Spelman because they knew the Atlanta-based College has especially wide experience with collaborative programming.

“They knew exactly what they wanted, what they needed,” says Chaevia Clendinen, associate dean for Student Advancement and Diversity. “Spelman humbled me in that way, in terms of knowing where we could fit, where we were placed, and what their student needs are.”

As Bradley and Clendinen moved forward with collaborations with other HBCUs, they found each school had well-developed and often quite different ways of thinking about partnerships with external institutions. “We've learned a tremendous amount from them about how to do this kind of work,” Bradley says. “They have offered us multiple models in how to most productively build relationships with their students and faculty.”

The Division’s contact at Spelman was also involved with the United Negro College Fund/Mellon Faculty Career Enhancement Program that funds HBCU faculty to take their sabbaticals at university research centers around the world. She invited UChicago and SSD into this consortium and UChicago will soon welcome HBCU faculty at the university’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture, Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, and Pozen Family Center for Human Rights.

Building on their work with Spelman, SSD approached Chicago State in a way that allowed the nearby school to lead on how they envisioned a partnership and what could be most beneficial to both institutions’ students and faculty. There had previously been collaboration between the two institutions, and there were still some individuals with knowledge of those programs at Chicago State. Bradley, Clendinen, and their Chicago State partners identified an opportunity to leverage the SSD’s Summer Institute in Social Research Methods as a way to provide Chicago State students with hands-on experience doing social sciences mentored by UChicago faculty. Chicago State students are applying now to the summer institute for this coming summer in what will be a pilot program providing full scholarships to admitted students.

“Our work with Chicago States speaks to the broader university desire to reset our relationship with the South Side community,” Bradley says. “We hope this pilot project will be the catalyst for partnerships with other schools in the area including the City Colleges.”

Whether with Spelman or Chicago State, these new SSD partnerships are designed to benefit all parties. “UChicago is a place where ideas flourish,” Clendinen says. “The benefit to our students and faculty of these partnerships is to get outside of our echo chambers and learn from a set of broader experiences and knowledge.”

“The possibility of growth and knowledge acquisition is just so much greater,” Clendinen continued, “when we are able to take advantage of all those mindsets that are outside of our buildings. These partnerships help diversify how the university serves as a place where ideas do come to be listened to, debated, and addressed.”