Division of Arts & Humanities Hosts the MMUF 2022 Western Regional Conference at Berkeley

December 14, 2022

This Fall, the Division of Arts & Humanities hosted the 2022 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, or MMUF, Western Regional Conference in partnership with the University of New Mexico. This was UC Berkeley’s first time hosting the regional conference in 10 years and the second time hosting overall. 

The MMUF program is the centerpiece of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's initiatives to increase diversity in the faculty ranks of institutions of higher learning. Established in 1988, the program aims to guide and prepare undergraduate students studying humanities and social sciences to apply to graduate school. The fellowship provides financial support as well as mentorship from staff and faculty. 

Since the program’s inception within the division in 2008, Berkeley MMUF Fellows have been accepted into graduate programs at Cambridge University (UK), University of Chicago, New York University, Purdue University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, University of Michigan, and the University of Southern California.

The fellowship is a two-year program, with two cohorts comprising juniors and seniors, respectively. The fellows develop a required senior thesis and receive mentorship from faculty and graduate students. To qualify for the MMUF program, applicants must be a second semester sophomore or have at least four academic semesters remaining at UC Berkeley and have at least a 3.4 GPA. 

With renewed funding announced this Fall from the Mellon Foundation to UC Berkeley’s Division of Arts & Humanities in support of the MMUF program, the Division’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is preparing to recruit for the 2023-2024 cohort. This semester, two new cohorts were announced ahead of the MMUF regional conference. 

Maria Faini, program manager of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Division of Arts & Humanities, described the program as particularly beneficial for underrepresented students. She added that the program is geared toward students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, with many fellows being transfer students, first-generation students and/or BIPOC students. 

"In keeping with the principles of the Mellon Foundation, the program fosters equity by supporting the education and careers of underrepresented faculty, which works to further diversify knowledge production and create a culture of belonging in higher education,” said Faini of Berkeley’s program. 

The conference was opened by Sara Guyer, Dean of the Division of Arts & Humanities. “It is such an honor to host this year’s regional MMUF conference at UC Berkeley,” Guyer said. “The contributions to research and teaching excellence in the humanities by MMUF graduates is unparalleled at Berkeley and we are proud to support this great program and continue its legacy. We hope to see all of you continue your academic careers at Berkeley as well as the other exceptional institutions that join us here this weekend.” 

Titled “Healing, Resilience, and Transformation: MMUF and the Urgent Needs of the Academy,” the conference’s theme was inspired by difficult experiences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Assistant Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity and staff program director for the program Alberto Ledesma. As a mentorship-based experience, MMUF implements mindfulness training focused on the importance of grounding fellows in their community and discovering new teaching methods, he added. 

The purpose of the conference overall is to help fellows form a community and share their ideas with one another, according to Faini. 

“We’re trying to form a true MMUF student community that can continue in a concrete way after the conference itself,” she said. 

Ledesma said many fellows continue their involvement with the program following their undergraduate careers. Since the program’s inception 25 years ago, it has seen its 1,000th doctoral degree, he added. He also stressed the importance of the MMUF program in regard to the arts and humanities at Berkeley. 

“How do the books that we read and the diversity of the scholars that we tend to focus on impact who we are as a people today?” Ledesma said. “We feel that our students, given their research project, are answering these questions.”

Ledesma noted that, of this year’s fellows, many are pursuing projects related to their personal experiences. For example, des marie jackson — an Afro-Latinx, queer, trans and nonbinary senior — is pursuing a project titled “Nothing Ever Happens Here”: Spatial Formation and local governance in the rural San Joaquin Valley, focused on the ecological history of growing up in the Central Valley and how environmental racism has affected the region’s development. 

Another fellow, senior transfer student Sofia Celeste Zaragoza from Los Angeles, is studying gender dynamics and social construct with their project, Julia Kristeva’s “Womens Time,” Feminine Identity, Development and Death in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. 

When asked about the impact of the conference on their research and academic pursuits, Zaragoza said “I can honestly say that the conference was an incredibly transformative experience considering that I entered the conference in one particular mood about my research and my academic aspirations and left completely rejuvenated and motivated to continue to reach my scholarly dreams and aspirations. I entered the conference entirely devoid of any kind of hope towards my academic aspirations due to burnout and an overall sense of impending doom with my pending graduation date quickly approaching. During the conference I got the chance to interact with fellow students who were just as academically prepared and excited about their research interests that it completely recharged my academic battery and really made me that much more excited to continue my research project and my academic trajectory.” 

"It has been a privilege for our division to support these incredible students through the MMUF program, and we look forward to engaging with future cohorts as they pursue their academic careers and contribute to the research and teaching excellence that is nurtured at Berkeley,” said Emily Rabiner, Communications and Student Engagement Manager.