To Nichole Nelson Ph.D. ’20, policy is ‘history in action’

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) has named Nichole Nelson, who earned her Ph.D. in history from Yale in May, one of 22 new Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows for 2020.

Now in its 10th year, the Public Fellows program places recent Ph.D.s in substantive roles in nonprofit and civil organizations. It serves as a demonstration of the ways in which humanities and related social sciences Ph.D.s can bring value and thrive within a variety of domains beyond academia. The program is made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The 2020 Public Fellows have roles in policy research, community engagement, advocacy, arts and public humanities programming, fundraising, and information management. Each will serve in two-year, full-time positions with prestigious host organizations, including the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison, the American Civil Liberties Union, Children’s Defense Fund, and Oxfam. Nelson will serve as a policy analyst for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, whose mission is to empower urban residents to realize and achieve their full potential.

During this time of ongoing uncertainty, the Public Fellows program provides important opportunities to apply humanistic perspectives and skills directly to projects led by community-focused initiatives across the country,” said ACLS President Joy Connolly. “In addition to helping to blaze new career paths for doctoral students, our partners are energized by the prospect of increasing their own capacity to address urgent problems with the distinctive assistance of humanities Ph.D.s. We are deeply grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their support of our common vision of a dynamic future for advanced education in the humanities.”

Each member of the 2020 cohort will receive $70,000 per year, as well as employer-based health insurance, a relocation allowance, and up to $3,000 in professional developments funds over the course of their fellowship. Fellows have opportunities for networking, mentoring, and career development programming, both in person and virtually, as well as opportunities to contribute to the efforts by scholarly associations and universities to support career pathways for humanities Ph.D.s.

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice is known for its advocacy aimed at toppling walls of structural inequality to create just, vibrant, and healthy urban communities. Reporting to the director of the institute’s Economic Justice Program, Nelson will combine research and policy analysis to carry out community-driven advocacy campaigns to help advance racial and social justice on behalf of New Jersey’s urban communities. The program works to ensure equality of economic opportunity for residents in urban communities through building and strengthening systems that provide access to wealth, including meaningful employment that pays a living wage; affordable, fair, and quality housing in safe and healthy neighborhoods; fair lending and student loan practices; and other reparative policies and practices to help close New Jersey’s racial wealth gap.

Yale’s history department and professional development opportunities prepared me well to be a Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice,” said Nelson, adding that she sees policy as “history in action.” “Glenda Gilmore was a wonderful dissertation adviser and she was receptive to me not only studying the history of the Fair Housing Movement and how its more progressive factions lost the battle to more conservative elements that perpetuated white supremacy through their integration initiatives, but she was also receptive to the policy recommendations that I made at the conclusion of my dissertation. Matthew Jacobsen and Mary Lui were wonderful dissertation committee members who pushed my understanding of the nuances of anti-racist organizing and how some committed anti-racists can still benefit from and unintentionally perpetuate white supremacy.

The support that I received from my committee members combined with Yale’s many opportunities to witness the practical application of history through my time as a graduate policy fellow with the Institution for Social and Policy Studies and as a digital humanities fellow for Elihu Rubin’s ‘American Architecture and Urbanism’ course prepared me well to research and offer recommendations about fair housing policy, reparation for the descendants of American chattel slavery, and other economic justice initiatives at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice,” she added.


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