Key Research Initiatives

At Rutgers, Our Values Drive Our Questions

The humanities and arts guide us toward the fundamental questions that motivate research in every field, helping us to define our purposes, challenge our thinking, and examine our history.

At Rutgers, humanities and arts faculty lead the academy in many fields, from philosophy, history, and English literature to Caribbean and Latin American studies, linguistics, Italian and Spanish, journalism and media, dance, musicology, and art and design.

Our Key Research Initiatives cultivate scholarship that cuts across departments and schools in New Brunswick, often forging new collaborations with the social and natural sciences and always asking the questions that present enduring challenges to our world—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Race and Region

At Rutgers, we believe the grand challenges of today—from education, healthcare, and work to technology, the environment, politics, and social justice—cannot be adequately addressed without understanding power, privilege, and discrimination in the U.S. and across the globe, in the past, and for the future. 

Scarlet and Black Volume 1 book coverThe Scarlet and Black Project is a landmark, collaboratively-written history of Rutgers that recovers the experiences of the enslaved and disenfranchised populations of African Americans and Native Americans in New Brunswick.


Painting of colorful buildings in caribbeanThe Rutgers Advanced Institute for Critical Caribbean Studies at Rutgers takes a leading national role in fostering multi-disciplinary research about the Caribbean and diasporic populations, allowing for a better understanding of the region and its people through engagement across the disciplines, in partnership with communities across the world.


Asian StudiesThe Asia Studies Initiative gathers scholars across schools and departments at Rutgers to foster ongoing conversations about the study of Global Asia at Rutgers.



Kali Nicole GrossKali Nicole Gross, Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of History, studies black women’s experiences in the U.S. criminal justice system between the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as how legacies of race, gender, and justice shape mass incarceration today. Read her recent op-ed on how "Megan Markle’s Choice of Independence and Self-Respect Reflects Legacies of African-American Women’s Resistance."


Arts Integration Research

At Rutgers, we believe the creative arts—their processes, forms, and institutions—can be integral to advanced research in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields.

Dimensionism event flyerThe Office of Research and Innovation partnered with the Zimmerli Museum, the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science, and the Institute for Research on Women to sponsor a year of dialogue and presentations on the relationships between art and science in conjunction with the Zimmerli’s exhibition on Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein. This groundbreaking exhibition explored how modern art was influenced by advances in science, from Einstein’s theory of relativity to newly powerful microscopic and telescopic lenses. For more information, visit the Zimmerli Museum website. (September 3, 2019–January 5, 2020)



Nicole FleetwoodFor Nicole Fleetwood, associate professor of American studies and director of the Institute for Research on Women, art curation is simultaneously a vehicle for scholarship—a vital mode of community engagement—and a pathway to social justice. Her exhibition Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration opens at MoMA PS1 in Queens, NY in April 2020, in conjunction with her new book and featuring leading Rutgers faculty on a series of public-facing programs.


Julia RitterAnette FreytagTogether, Fleetwood, Julia Ritter, chair and artistic director of the Dance Department at Mason Gross School of the Arts, and Anette Freytag, associate professor of landscape architecture at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, lead a Rutgers Research Collaborative on Arts Integration Research, building on this important national trend in higher education.


Jeff FriedmanJeff Friedman, associate professor and director of the MFA dance program at Mason Gross School of the Arts, designed a program for Parkinson’s patients at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to study how choreographed movements can improve quality of life. Now, Friedman’s program is scaling up through a collaboration with Roseanne Dobkin, associate professor of psychiatry at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and Elizabeth Torres, associate professor of psychology at the School of Arts and Sciences and director of the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence.


filmmaking students gather around cameraThe Documentary Film Lab at the Mason Gross School of Arts turns advanced Rutgers research into award-winning films. Film Lab team members have joined expeditions to Greenland, followed submersibles, and traveled to Antarctica to produce short and full-length feature films for national distribution.


Environmental Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities

At Rutgers, we believe understanding the environmental crises of the present requires creative collaboration across every area of study: natural sciences, social and behavioral sciences, geography, history, literature, philosophy, languages, urban planning and engineering, public health, medicine, and the studio arts.

Pamela McElweePamela McElwee, associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology, was named a 2019 Andrew Carnegie Fellow for her book Rivers of Blood, Mountains of Bone: An Environmental History of the Vietnam War and After.




Kevon RhineyKevon Rhiney, assistant professor in the Department of Geography, School fo Arts and Sciences, works at the intersection of political ecology, critical development studies, ethnography, science and technology studies, and postcolonial thought to study problems of environmental justice in the human-natural systems of the Caribbean.




Rutgers Climate InstituteThe Rutgers Climate Institute draws upon faculty across Rutgers to facilitate collaboration among the natural and social sciences, the humanities, engineering, law, and medicine on all aspects of climate change, from the Raritan River and the Jersey Shore to Africa and Indonesia. The institute regularly hosts public events on climate change featuring notable climate scientists and international, federal, and state policy-makers, journalists, and authors.


Community-Engaged Scholarship and the Public Humanities

At Rutgers, we believe scholarship should speak widely, about topics that matter to as many people as possible. We believe our arts institutions, schools, and community centers are vital partners in understanding the big problems of today and tomorrow.

Khadijah WhiteKhadijah White, assistant professor of journalism and media studies at the School of Communication and Information, received a Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Fellowship (2020-21) for her project on "Security, Trauma, and Schools: A Film-Centered Community Dialogue."




Emily Allen-HornblowerEmily Allen-Hornblower, associate professor of classics at the School of Arts and Sciences, received a 2019-2020 Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Seed Grant for her series of public collaborations, “The Public Face of Emotions: Greek Classics and the Role of Emotions in our Lives," with formerly incarcerated men and women concerning ancient Greek philosophy and literature, building on her work through the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium (NJ-STEP), an association of colleges and universities that provide college courses for inmates and to assist in their transition to college life upon release from prison.


Alexander GuerreroAlexander Guerrero, associate professor of philosophy at the School of Arts and Sciences, argues that "lottocracy"—governance by random selection, as in trial juries—holds the key to reforming our political system. See his special section of The Star Ledger. Guerrero also recently published an op-ed on risk in the age of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.




Kristin O’Brassill-KulfanKristin O’Brassill-Kulfan, a former archivist and research analyst for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and now directs the Public History Program in the Department of History at Rutgers where she is a scholar writing about poverty, slavery, mobility, crime and punishment in the early American republic. Kristin collaborates with museums, archives, and libraries in the US and the UK curating exhibits, managing archival collections, and creating inclusive public programming. She regularly consults on public history projects in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, and edits the new Routledge series Global Perspectives on Public History.


Civics and Social Justice

At Rutgers, we believe and political engagement, informed decision-making, and social justice depend on teachers, students, and citizens working together.

Derrick DarbyDerrick Darby, Henry Rutgers Professor of Philosophy, is the director of the Rutgers Social Justice Solutions Research Collaboratory and directs its renowned Summer Institute for Diversity in Philosophy founded by Howard McGary, Jr. Darby discovered his passion for philosophy growing up in the Queensbridge public housing projects in Long Island City, NY, a story he tells in his TEDx talk "Doing the Knowledge." He writes about rights, inequality, and democracy with a focus on how race and racism bear on theoretical, normative and practical philosophical questions. His scholarship has been funded by the Spencer Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. He is currently writing about W. E. B. Du Bois’s democratic theory and how it bears on questions of social, economic, and global justice.


Elizabeth C. MattoElizabeth C. Matto, director of the Rutgers Center for Youth Political Participation at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, leads in research and curricular and public engagement programs designed to encourage civic action among young adults. Her RU Voting project focused on engaging Rutgers students in local, state, and national elections, was recently awarded Greatest Growth in Student Voter Turnout by the Big Ten Voting Challenge competition.



Benjamin JusticeBenjamin Justice, chair of the Department of Educational Theory, Policy, and Administration at the Graduate School of Education and cofounder of the Rutgers Initiative for Education and Justice looks at how the U.S. criminal justice system creates citizens, building innovative connections between legitimacy theory and curriculum theory and positing that the criminal justice system is, itself, an educational system that bears both a formal and hidden curriculum organized around ideas of race. Justice is currently writing a book with coauthor Tracey Meares that seeks to understand how experiences with police, courts, and pre-trial detention shape civic identity.