Intention Foundry

ACLS is working to pilot projects for change by mobilizing its convening power to build bridges among our ecosystem’s triangular network of stakeholders - emerging scholars, university administrators, and learned societies. Thanks to generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, over the next three years (2021, 2022, 2023) we are mounting the ACLS Intention Foundry or IF, (formerly Summer Institutes) to accelerate equity, inclusion, and structural change in the academy.

The Intention Foundry will serve as an incubator - fostering new partnerships, encouraging creative speculation, and supporting collaborative problem-solving to pilot and implement initiatives that help us achieve a more equitable, inclusive, and just academy.

We are pleased to announce that we will convene our inaugural Intention Foundry on Inclusion Diversity, Equity and Anti-racism (IDEA), with a new two-part format in Spring and Summer 2021 to capitalize on the opportunities of our brave new virtual world.

About the Intention Foundry (IF)

The Intention Foundry offers a rare forum for college and university faculty, administrators, and learned society directors to collaborate on best practices for the future together with emerging scholars, who know better than anyone the obstacles they face. “These are three groups that do not naturally gather,” says Joy Connolly, President of ACLS, “And we are grateful that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation sees the will and energy for change that we can unlock by enabling them to determine how best to work together.”

The Intention Foundry aims to amplify successful work and devise new coordinated strategies for anti-racism efforts that support historically and systemically disadvantaged groups in academia, especially Black, Indigenous, Latinx and first-generation scholars. A key priority in revamping IF was centering the knowledge of emerging scholars - particularly first-generation and scholars of color - and ensuring their contributions of time, expertise and labor are duly recognized and rewarded. Hearing their hopes, concerns, and propositions for change at IF’s outset, not only disrupts the status quo, it positions them to take a leading role in setting the agenda for advancing anti-racism, equity and justice in their fields and institutions.

ACLS is equally attentive to the challenges and work many of our member societies are grappling with around the futures of societies, membership, as well as around inclusion, diversity, equity and anti-racism. We see IF as an opportunity to integrate these threads by amplifying current efforts, energizing their memberships, and identifying actionable paths forward to recruit, retain and, especially, support historically and systemically disadvantaged groups, particularly Black, Indigenous, Latinx and first-generation scholars.

The Intention Foundry will be led by our new Program Officer of Higher Education Initiatives, Dr. Jovonne Bickerstaff, whose general charge is to design and implement initiatives to support ACLS members (notably learned societies) and to advance scholarship supported by ACLS in new directions, with the goal of increasing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. IF continues ongoing efforts at ACLS to expand our reach beyond fellowships by developing new programs that will strengthen humanistic studies for the 21st century.

Intention Foundry (IF) 2021 - Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Anti-racism

Given our new Zoom context, for the 2021 Intention Foundry, ACLS shifted from a 4-day in-person retreat to a two-part virtual series with a spring & summer session: Part 1 brings society directors and emerging scholars together to identify IDEA projects of mutual interest. Part 2 incorporates university administrators to discuss the potential, impact, and challenges of projects participants want to pursue. There will be two iterations of IF 2021:

Group 1 Group 2
Spring - April 8-9th Spring - April 29-30th
Summer - June 10-11th Summer - June 24-25th


While ACLS will define some framing questions and themes in consultation with our advisory group and broader membership, IF participants will play a decisive role in setting the agenda and proposing cases, problems, and projects for the group to address.

What outcomes do we anticipate from the convening? Concrete take-aways may include: advice on anti-racism-related curriculum change, best practices for mentorship and fostering new mentorship networks, blueprints for changes in governance, or fact-finding/data analysis projects for ACLS. Society representatives and emerging scholars are also invited to collaborate to propose initiatives to pilot, which may be evidentiary (coordinating data collection), paradigmatic (transforming graduate curriculum, developing new metrics of PhD success), or programmatic (creating mentorship networks, developing best-practices for mentoring 1st generation scholars).

Promising trans-institutional initiatives that emerge from the IF convenings will require dedicated follow up. The grant also provides ACLS with some staff support to ensure that the convenings produce action rather than just talk, so that we can support participants in moving fruitful ideas from planning to pilot and implementation.

Plans for the inaugural IF are well underway. Information about the inaugural IF participants will be posted in coming weeks.

Future convenings

Over the three years of the project, we will welcome participation from all of the ACLS member societies. We hope to accommodate 12-15 society representatives along with emerging scholars in those fields each year. Innovative administrators who are leading change within colleges and universities will also be invited, allowing for approximately 45 people at each convening. As conveners and moderators, the lessons that we draw from the inaugural IF will help shape the agenda for the second and third set of convenings (in 2022 and 2023).