Published: May 18, 2021

Award aims to help promising graduate students focus their attention on scholarly work

Two graduate students at the University of Colorado Boulder have won a prestigious fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, or ACLS, the group announced recently.

Raúl Melgoza, a PhD student in ethnic studies, and Alex Standen, a PhD student in environmental studies, have been named 2021 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellows. They are among 72 fellows from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants nationwide.

Raúl Melgoza

At the top of the page: Barrio Logan’s mural at Chicano Park in San Diego, CA. Above: Raúl Melgoza

The program, now in its 15th year, offers promising graduate students a year of funding ($43,000) in the final year of dissertation research and writing so they can focus their attention on completing projects that form the foundations of their scholarly careers.

In addition, fellows participate in a career-development seminar to help them prepare for postdoctoral opportunities within and beyond the academy. 

Melgoza’s dissertation is titled, “Chicanx Kinetics: The Forces and Motions of Settlerness in Chicanx Cultural Politics.”

He describes his work this way: “Pilgrims, missions, homes and butterflies hold a key place in the Chicanx cultural imaginary. A study of Chicanx expressive culture and social justice activism, this project explores these figures to speak to how Mexican Americans navigate the ways racialization and settlerness intersect under U.S. settler colonialism in the Southwest,” adding: 

Alex Standen

Alex Standen

“Drawing attention to how the forces of capitalism, liberalism and colonialism racialize Mexicans as incorporable settlers and excludable aliens, this project argues that Chicanx artists and activists reharness this status into a source of antiracist critique. It names this politicized aesthetics of force and motion within Chicanx cultural politics ‘Chicanx Kinetics,’ highlighting these four figures as emblems for understanding the status of Chicanx settlerness.”

Melgoza said he is grateful for the support. “I am honored for my project to have received this recognition,” he said. “The teaching recess and financial support afforded by the fellowship will allow me the time and resources to complete my dissertation over the upcoming academic year.”

Standen’s dissertation is titled, “The Colonial New Deal: Hurricanes, Land Reform and Organized Labor in Puerto Rico, 1928-1952.”

He notes that in the 1930s, on the heels of a series of hurricanes and a global economic collapse, Puerto Rican and U.S. reformers collaborated to craft the Puerto Rican New Deal: an economic reconstruction plan to diversify agriculture, redistribute land, reduce chronic poverty and restore local economic control. 

“This project argues that the Puerto Rican New Deal was propelled and conditioned by a complex network of human and environmental actors: organized workers, the crops they cultivated, the disaster events they confronted and the political ecologies they helped construct.”

The projects pursued by the 2021 fellowship cohort represent a wide range of research topics, including the globalized ecosystem of white supremacist movements, the decolonizing role of bearing witness in Palestinian film and art, the multi-faceted activism of Black women educators in the mid-20th century, and Quechua theatre’s cross-cultural signification in 18th-century colonial Cuzco.

“ACLS is proud to support this exceptional cohort of emerging scholars, one third of whom identify as first-generation college students and two thirds of whom identify as scholars of color, as they pursue important new directions in humanistic scholarship,” said ACLS President Joy Connolly. 

“During a time of increased need for early career scholars, this program allows us to invest in the future of the humanities, thanks to the continued commitment of the Mellon Foundation.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is a nonprofit that describes itself as the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities.

Formed in 1919, the American Council of Learned Societies, on the other hand, is a nonprofit federation of 78 scholarly organizations. As the preeminent representative of American scholarship in the humanities and related social sciences, ACLS holds a core belief that knowledge is a public good. 

As such, ACLS strives to promote the circulation of humanistic knowledge throughout society. The group supports scholarship in the humanities and social sciences and advocates for the centrality of the humanities in the modern world.