From the Desk of Larin McLaughlin: The Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship Program

In this guest post, UW Press editor in chief and Principal Investigator Larin McLaughlin writes about how the Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship Program (application deadline: March 15, 2016) came to be:

In the past six months, two children’s books have incited controversy with their rosy depictions of enslaved African Americans making desserts for their owners. On the heels of the well-tweeted #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which brought national attention to the lack of diversity in children’s book publishing, objections to the books flew across social media platforms. On my own Facebook feed, scholar and cultural critic Rebecca Wanzo nailed a key question that pervades these controversies: “who was in the room?” Publishing houses produce all-too-frequent situations where critical decisions are made without the benefit of diverse perspectives, and who is in the room certainly matters.

In the case of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, author Ramin Ganeshram describes how her concerns about racial representation went unheeded in the collaboration between author, illustrator, and publisher. Overall, those best positioned to bring critical and diverse perspectives to publishing decisions are still significantly underrepresented in the industry: recent surveys such as the 2015 Publishers Weekly Salary Survey and the Diversity Baseline Survey demonstrate important differences in demographics between publishing professionals in the U.S. and the U.S. population more generally.

Here at university presses, we sit at the intersection of publishing and higher education. This vantage point offers exciting and sometimes challenging perspectives on both books and academia. Like universities more generally, many of our publishing programs were transformed by the 1960s and 1970s civil rights activism that led to the incorporation of ethnic studies, women’s studies, and other programs focused on incorporating the histories and cultures of marginalized populations into university curricula.

At the University of Washington Press, for example, our Asian American studies list dates back to the 1970s, and we began working with Native American and Indigenous groups and authors, especially in the Pacific Northwest, to publish books that serve as resources for and about Native communities well before then. Books by people of color have often found homes at university presses and independent publishers more willing to take risks on writers from marginalized groups than commercial presses that needed to plan on high profit margins.

At the same time that our lists were changing, however, the university press profession itself didn’t follow the model of higher education, where programs designed to diversify faculty and student bodies both made and lost ground over the ensuing several decades. Consequently, like the rest of the publishing industry, university press publishing remained fairly homogenous even as the demographics of the U.S. population and higher education shifted dramatically. In her recent post for the MIT Press blog, Gita Manaktala, Editorial Director at MIT Press, describes returning from last year’s annual Association of American University Presses (AAUP) meeting: “I was struck (not for the first time) by a gap between our publications—which do seek to include and account for the perspectives, histories, and concerns of diverse communities—and the lack of diversity in our own ranks.”

These concerns led a group of acquisitions staff—Courtney Berger from Duke University Press, Mick Gusinde-Duffy from the University of Georgia Press, Gita, and me, as well as colleagues at our respective presses—to develop a pipeline program to enhance diversity. We approached the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with the idea, and were encouraged to develop the program, consisting of apprenticeships in acquisitions departments for newcomers to the profession who have significant personal experience and engagement with diverse communities as well as a demonstrated ability to bring the understandings gleaned from such engagement to the daily work of academic publishing.

As a result, the University of Washington Press, the MIT Press, Duke University Press and the University of Georgia Press are currently recruiting for our first cohort of Mellon University Press Diversity Fellows. We announced this program, generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in early January 2016, and were glad to see the announcement the same week of a summer internship program for diversifying trade publishing led by the Association for American Publishers and the United Negro College Fund. Both programs respond to the ongoing lack of diversity across the publishing industry.

Our efforts were well-timed here at the University of Washington, the lead on the program, as President Ana Mari Cauce’s 2015 Race & Equity Initiative has inspired a host of new and transformative ways to support and sustain diversity at the UW as well as the communities we serve. With three cohorts of fellows over the next four years, we expect to learn a great deal from this initiative, and, we hope, inspire other transformative efforts to increase diversity in our industry.

The University of Washington Press (job number 129613), Duke University Press (Careers), MIT Press (job number 13174), and the University of Georgia Press (job number 20160288) are now accepting applications for the Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship Program. The program seeks to increase diversity in scholarly publishing by providing year-long fellowships in the acquisitions departments of the four university presses with the support of the Association of American University Presses and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The deadline for applications is March 15, 2016. Applications will be reviewed by a committee comprised of representatives of the participating presses and the AAUP, and selected fellows will be notified by April 15, 2016, to begin the year-long fellowship on June 1, 2016.

2 thoughts on “From the Desk of Larin McLaughlin: The Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship Program

  1. Pingback: March 2016 News, Reviews, and Events | University of Washington Press Blog

  2. Pingback: Meet the 2016-2017 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellow: Niccole Leilanionapae‘āina Coggins | University of Washington Press Blog

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