Melissa Harris-Perry, Wake Forest University politics professor and MSNBC television host, has been appointed executive director of the University’s Pro Humanitate Institute.
Launched this summer, the Pro Humanitate Institute brings under one umbrella many of Wake Forest’s community engagement efforts. Through teaching, research, service and professional development programs, the Institute reflects the University’s commitment to making a difference in communities at the local, state, national and international levels.
From environmental justice projects to research on urban food deserts, Harris-Perry has spent her career connecting academic work and service.
“Melissa Harris-Perry is ideal for this role, given her own student experiences at Wake Forest, her prize-winning academic work on contemporary politics and social justice, and her remarkable career of involvement in local, regional, and national issues and projects,” said Wake Forest University Provost Rogan Kersh. “Since joining the faculty, she has already become a leading voice for community engagement on campus.”
A 1994 Wake Forest graduate, Harris-Perry returned to her alma mater in the summer of 2014 to join the University’s politics and international affairs department as a Presidential Endowed Chair. She will take on a leadership role with the Institute in addition to teaching.
The Institute takes its name from the University’s motto, “Pro Humanitate,” or “for humanity,” which inspires students, faculty and staff to seek ways to use their knowledge and skills for the benefit of others.
“The Pro Humanitate Institute will help people find answers to the question: How do we lead lives that matter?” said Harris-Perry, who was involved in community service during her student days at Wake Forest and has made service learning an integral part of the courses she teaches. “Wake Forest can become a model for a fully integrated effort of curriculum, research, and campus life initiatives to affect change for both campus and communities.”
The Institute includes the former Institute for Public Engagement, which sponsored teaching and research along with local outreach, as well as the former Office of Service and Social Action, which facilitated opportunities for students to engage with the community, serve others and explore social-justice issues. Current Institute initiatives range from Campus Kitchen, a food recycling program that addresses hunger in a sustainable way, to the Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund Drive, which has raised more than $1 million for cancer research through student-sponsored events, to global service programs in places such as India and Vietnam.
Harris-Perry looks forward to collaborating with the staff leaders of the Pro Humanitate Institute on ways to expand and refine the Institute’s work.
“I have been given this incredible opportunity to provide some direction and some inspiration and build on the excellent work that is already being done,” she said.
Before coming to Wake Forest, Harris-Perry taught at Tulane University, where her courses incorporated service learning in New Orleans’ communities. The Anna Julia Cooper Center on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South, which she founded while at Tulane and currently directs at Wake Forest, will become part of the Pro Humanitate Institute.
Harris-Perry has also previously served on the faculties of the University of Chicago and Princeton University. She is the author of “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America” and “Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought,” which won the 2005 W.E.B. Du Bois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists and 2005 Best Book Award from the Race and Ethnic Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. She will continue to host her weekend MSNBC program.