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Civic engagement focus of new Mellon Foundation grant awarded to Emory College
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Elaine Justice
Carol Anderson and Bernard Fraga

The Imagining Democracy Lab, led by historian Carol Anderson (left) and elections specialist Bernard Fraga, will advance civic engagement and democratic participation through interdisciplinary research, experiential education and partnerships.

The Mellon Foundation has awarded Emory University a multi-year, $526,000 grant to develop a new center to advance civic engagement and democratic participation through interdisciplinary humanistic research, experiential education and partnerships between Emory and Georgia-based organizations in and around Atlanta.

The Imagining Democracy Lab will be led by historian Carol Anderson, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies and internationally recognized expert and public scholar on voting and civil rights, and Bernard L. Fraga, associate professor of political science and specialist in race, elections and voter behavior.

Central to the project is building empowerment and civic engagement by asking citizens to imagine what a viable, functioning democracy could mean for enhancing the quality of their lives and providing the information and pathways to make that kind of democracy real.

“This outstanding award will support innovative models for collaborative research and teaching and will forge enduring relationships between Emory and our surrounding communities,” says Carla Freeman, interim dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences. “I am grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its recognition and support for this vital initiative that will greatly expand our work around civic engagement and social justice, and actively advance our democratic future.”

The Imagining Democracy Lab builds upon Anderson’s award-winning scholarship on the history of racial inequality and voter suppression in the U.S. and the work of Fraga, whose award-winning book “The Turnout Gap” documents the causes and consequences of racial/ethnic disparities in who turns out to vote. Other faculty in political science, African American studies, law and history will be involved as well. 

The lab also will utilize additional institutional strengths with the resources of Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference and Emory Law's Center for Civil Rights and Social Justice.

“The grant from the Mellon Foundation is a recognition of how important an engaged citizenry is to a healthy, vibrant democracy. We are honored to have the Imagining Democracy Lab be a contributor to that vision,” says Anderson.

Leveraging Emory’s location in Atlanta as an historic and contemporary center for civil rights, the lab will engage students and faculty in the humanities and social sciences, as well as local, state and national organizations to develop multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research strategies that can foster civic participation in Georgia and beyond.

Representatives from community organizations will join the lab as fellows and full partners in research, scholarship, teaching and action. A major goal of the research lab is to connect academic and real-world understandings of barriers to democratic enfranchisement and responsiveness, and gain access to information that helps participants take action, from local to national levels.

The Imagining Democracy Lab also plans to launch an open-access digital “Democracy Hub” to widely disseminate its scholarship and educational resources to individuals and community organizations. Content for the Democracy Hub, including platforms for participatory exchange with citizens, will include the work and research results of the students, faculty and community organizations involved in the lab. The Democracy Hub will be designed and supported by experts within the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship who are trained to optimize digital scholarly resources.

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