Digital Ethnic Futures


The Consortium

The Digital Ethnic Futures Consortium (DEFCon) is a national consortium of digital ethnic studies practitioners led by Roopika Risam (Salem State University), Sonya Donaldson (New Jersey City University), Jamila Moore Pewu (California State University, Fullerton), Toniesha Taylor (Texas Southern University), and Keja Valens (Salem State University). Through events, professional development, networking opportunities, and a regranting program, we support the work of faculty, librarians, and students who are undertaking research and teaching at the intersections of digital humanities and ethnic studies fields.

The consortium’s overarching structure is a hub-and-spoke model. The hub is led by Consortium Director Roopika Risam and Consortium Associate Director Keja Valens at Salem State University. The consortium features spokes at New Jersey City University (Lead: Sonya Donaldson); California State University, Fullerton (Lead: Jamila Moore Pewu); and Texas Southern University (Lead: Toniesha Taylor).

Through DEFCon, we aim to:

  • Develop and seed a network of social justice-engaged digital humanities practitioners in ethnic studies fields;
  • Increase national capacity for digital humanities curriculum engaged with minoritized communities;
  • Emphasize the importance of reciprocal and redistributive relationships with communities through digital humanities praxis (recognizing that “community” may be local, national, or international and includes communities within universities);
  • Resist mono-directional power dynamics of knowledge production where the university is the arbiter of expertise and facilitate authentic community collaboration; and
  • Build the next generation of scholars in social justice-engaged digital humanities by offering undergraduate students opportunities to better understand the field and begin developing their own expertise, drawing on their cultural wealth.

From 2021-2024, DEFCon is funded by a $3,000,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. During this time, we will focus on:

  • Developing an organizational structure to coordinate the national and cross-institutional work necessary to provide mentorship on developing digital ethnic studies curriculum for regional public universities that are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs);
  • Promoting collaboration, knowledge mobilization, and exchange at the nexus of digital humanities and ethnic studies fields;
  • Sharing strategies for successful implementation of curricular initiatives through a speaker series, networking opportunities, and a virtual annual meeting;
  • Providing financial support to three regional public universities (New Jersey City University, Texas Southern University, and California State University, Fullerton) to scale their digital ethnic studies curriculum and projects and to position them to be regional nodes of DEFCon; and
  • Expanding capacity beyond the four founding partner institutions by offering regranted funds and mentorship for course and curriculum development to faculty and librarians at regional public universities.


Roopika Risam’s work with Salem State University archivist Susan Edwards on the “Networking the Regional Comprehensives” grant (jointly funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services) underscored the need for increased investment in digital humanities at regional public universities and the value of a consortial approach. We found that only 22% of regional public universities offered digital humanities training to students, though there was significant demand for faculty professional development to increase offerings. The workshop we held identified strategies to address this gap, which have informed DEFCon: integrating digital humanities into curriculum, providing faculty professional development virtually to leverage scarce resources, and building on the community-engaged practices in which our institutions are invested. A consortium further addresses a key finding of the survey: digital humanities offerings at regional public universities typically rely on sole practitioners. Therefore, the consortial approach facilitates community for isolated practitioners and allows them to share success strategies for curriculum implementation.

Risam, Donaldson, Moore Pewu, and Taylor were brought together by their work on The Digital Black Atlantic, edited by Risam and Kelly Baker Josephs for the Debates in the Digital Humanities Series (University of Minnesota Press, 2021), and were delighted to be joined by Keja Valens. As faculty who work at institutions focused on undergraduate education, we are invested in supporting the work of graduate students, faculty, and librarians who are integrating digital humanities into their undergraduate teaching in Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian American studies. Equally important is our investment in developing ethical digital humanities initiatives that work with community partners to promote justice and equity in the digital cultural record.