UC Riverside’s Center for Ideas and Society is now under the direction of two professors whose visions, experiences, and academic backgrounds complement each other.
Jeanette Kohl, associate professor in the Department of the History of Art, and Dylan Rodríguez, professor in the Media and Cultural Studies department are co-directors of the 32-year-old center. They assumed their roles in September. As co-faculty directors, their intention is to develop new, broadly inclusive initiatives, establish new cross-campus connections, and create new opportunities for faculty and students to translate their research or academic work into tangible, hands-on collaborations with surrounding communities.
“It’s really about expanding the vision through the input of two minds and hearts,” said Kohl, who has been at UCR since 2008. She previously served as chair for the Department of the History of Art and is a scholar with a research focus in the Italian Renaissance and interdisciplinary questions. “We want to create new partnerships in the desert, reach out to the communities there, and for that purpose work closer with our UCR Palm Desert campus.”
On Oct. 1, the center officially opened a branch at the Palm Desert campus and has started to co-sponsor a series of lectures. At UCR, the Center for Ideas and Society will host a happy hour on Nov. 18, 4-6:30 p.m. The center is located in College Building South, near parking lot 3 and West Campus Dr.
The Center for Ideas and Society was established in 1989 as an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary center designed to act as a nucleus for the sponsorship of humanities and humanities-related arts and social sciences research. According to the center’s website, it was born out of recommendations from a chancellor’s task force, in partnership with the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, and was originally funded through campus commitments and the UC Office of the President’s Humanities Initiative. The Center for Ideas and Society’s founding purpose was to “promote and advance humanistic research and study at UCR.”
Those same pillars still stand. Having two leaders at the helm means taking those ideals a step further, said Katharine Henshaw, Center for Ideas and Society executive director. As executive director Henshaw administers projects and programs for the center and will work closely with the faculty directors to develop strategic goals, initiatives, and partnerships that demonstrate the center’s mission and values.
The center has a $1.4 million operating budget. Funding primarily comes from grants and college support.
Kohl said she wants the entire campus community to understand that the center is not an exclusive space for CHASS. Instead, she wants people to know that the humanities can be a “thought umbrella” where big questions get asked and connections can be made with science and social science experts. One such example is Kohl’s “Being Human” — a platform in which experts address timely issues through deep interdisciplinary engagement, discussing ideas such as resilience and global education from medical, environmental, historical, technological, and a variety of cultural perspectives.
Rodríguez said they want to bring scholars and artists into the center who are part of intellectual traditions emerging from Black studies, Native American and Indigenous thought, queer studies, and feminist theory, as well as those who are thinking in a transdisciplinary way about climate change, the border, language, and more.
Under this new leadership, the Center for Ideas and Society hopes to be a place where creation and experimentation is boundless, Rodríguez said.
“There are two main intentions here. One, to facilitate a creative, experimental space where we can embrace risk and failure; it’s important that we try new approaches to thinking about old problems. We need to be fearless in how we do this,” said Rodríguez, past Academic Senate chair and a 2020 inaugural recipient of the Marguerite Casey Foundation and Group Health Foundation’s Freedom Scholar award. These organizations promote those advocating for economic, racial, and social justice. Rodríguez’s recognition came with a $250,000 unrestricted funds award.
“Second, the academic work highlighted by the center should acknowledge the connections my colleagues have with people beyond UCR and the university. Part of that means we have to create intellectual and creative programs beyond the academic setting that embrace community-based thinkers, movement builders, and artists as knowledge producers, not simply as communities to be studied by academics.”
Henshaw said having both professors lead the center only strengthens the center’s future.
“Jeanette and Dylan are dynamic and enthusiastic collaborators and their joint appointments to lead CIS come at a critical stage of the center’s growth,” Henshaw said. “Their combined visions — for creative and innovative projects with broad appeal and significant impact — have the potential to exponentially increase research opportunities for scholars of all ranks in CHASS.”