Staten Island Campus and CANVAS Pan-African Library Awarded Community Partnership Grant

January 8, 2019

The American Studies Association (ASA) has awarded Robert Fanuzzi, Ph.D., Associate Provost of the Staten Island campus and Associate Professor of English, its Community Partnership Grant for 2018-19.  Dr. Fanuzzi received the award to fund the project, “In Search of the Black University: A Community Curriculum for the Pan-African Library of CANVAS Institute.” The ASA national grant is given to scholars to “support collaborative interdisciplinary community projects utilizing American Studies pedagogy, curriculum, research, and other resources.” Dr. Fanuzzi will use the grant to make the newly created Pan-African library—the only collection of books on Staten Island devoted to the experiences of people of African descent—newly accessible and integral to community organizations and St. John’s students. 

Dr. Fanuzzi’s partnership with CANVAS Institute began in spring 2017 through an Academic Service Learning project for his undergraduate course, African-American Literature to 1900. St. John’s English students helped to shelve and catalogue a collection of 1000 books in African and African American literature, history, biography, and sociology, donated to CANVAS by the Given family estate for the establishment of the library. St. John’s students and the Staten Island community marked the completion of the book catalogue and the launch of the Pan-African Library with a Black History Month celebration in February 2018. At the library’s launch, CANVAS founder and Staten Island community leader Bobby Digi celebrated the library’s impact on the Staten Island community: “The Pan African Library at Canvas Institute is an opportunity for the community to learn about the impact of the African Diaspora in America and on Staten Island. It is a solution to the absence of this history in schools.”

Dr. Fanuzzi developed the next phase of the CANVAS partnership with the help of St. John’s English department graduate students in his spring 2018 Critical Race Theory class. “Our course readings in black radicalism and women-of-color feminism gave students, and me, essential grounding in the long-standing search for the black university,” he said. “I could not have developed the grant proposal without the collaboration and commitment of our students to equity and inclusion in higher education.”

The ASA Community Partnership Grant program began in 2002 to provide seed money for projects that enhance American studies involvement in the ongoing work of community-based organizations. This year’s allocation of grant funds from ASA is the largest in the program’s history. Dr. Fanuzzi’s award will provide stipends, instructional materials, and facility-related costs for three workshops with participants from Staten Island public schools, community organizations, youth development programs, and St. John’s student organizations, as they come together to create a “community curriculum” based on the library. The ASA calls the grant project “a model of praxis that addresses educational needs outside formalized public schools and directly engages underrepresented, educationally-marginalized communities in the co-creation of knowledge about themselves.” Grant activities are scheduled for May 2019. 

The partnership between CANVAS and the Staten Island campus reflects St. John’s commitment to campus community partnerships on Staten Island and the University’s Mission of social justice, diversity, and inclusion. Dr. Fanuzzi, who was previously awarded a Humanities New York grant for educational outreach in local Black history, embraces his campus’s partnership with CANVAS: “The experience of creating the library catalogue and now this grant has convinced me more than ever that the life that books provide us is real.”