AAI Announces Recipients for Arts & Humanities Grant

LAWRENCE — The Achievement & Assessment Institute has announced the recipients of this year’s Arts & Humanities Grant.

Ash Wilson, director of the Center for Sexuality & Gender Diversity at KU, and David Mai, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Film & Media Studies, were awarded the grant for their project titled “Telling Our Stories.”

Work in AAI focuses on enhancing educational opportunity; optimizing the well-being of children, youth and families; creating accessible assessment systems that better support student learning, especially for struggling learners; and creating educational technologies and data systems that support students, teachers and organizations. “Telling Our Stories” connects to many of these areas through a collaborative media project.

The aim of the project is to document queer and trans (QT) voices at KU and in the broader community, with QT students trained on how to interview and film QT staff, faculty and community members. Project organizers plan to make finished interviews available for programming, instruction and exhibition. “Telling Our Stories” builds on a pilot program that occurred in fall 2021.

“With this project, it’s a way to help the KU community connect with and relate to queer and trans people for everyone’s benefit. The more QT people are understood, seen and heard, the more accepting the community will be,” Wilson said.

They note that while the university does collect demographic information regarding race and socioeconomic status, it does not collect information on queer and trans identities, which can make it difficult to understand how large the QT population is and how needs may be met.

“I think there are more queer and trans folks than people realize exist,” Wilson said. “This project helps make this population visible in new and exciting ways.”

Mai, who was interested in the project’s communication between queer and trans students and queer and trans elders, will guide participants through the production process of the interviews and offer post-production support.

“I think this project is important to just open a landscape for that communication to happen,” Mai said.

Beyond the production of the interviews, Wilson and Mai plan for a variety of public engagement opportunities and screenings, including an online component to allow viewers around the world to experience the conversations. They also plan for participants to attend KC Pride as a cohort.

The “Telling Our Stories” project comes amid an environment in which queer and trans identities are under attack, they noted.

“There’s legislation that’s been introduced in Kansas, and across the nation right now there are over 200 bills that target queer and trans folks in some way, currently on [legislative] floors,” Wilson said.

In documenting queer and trans voices across generations, Wilson and Mai hope to offer counterprogramming to the efforts to restrict queer and trans rights.

This is the second year for the Arts & Humanities Grant, which AAI created to foster deeper ties between the arts & humanities and the education and social sciences within which most of the institute’s work is focused. AAI will cover up to $12,000 for any expenses allowable under university and KU Office of Research guidelines. 

“The Arts & Humanities Grant program lets us support those in other fields who tie into our organization’s mission,” said Neal Kingston, AAI director and University Distinguished Professor. “It recognizes that improving educational opportunity or supporting students or any number of the areas AAI and its center work in can occur in different environments, through different academic lenses.”