University of Minnesota receives $225,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to explore justice in policing

Image of protesters clashing with police

May 1, 2023

The Institute for Advanced Study announces that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $225,000 to fund a Sawyer Seminar at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities titled Just Policing: The Definition and Possibility of Justice in Law Enforcement.

The Seminar, planned for the 2024–25 academic year, will take a transnational and humanities-based approach to understanding how historical narratives about the origins and purposes of policing have shaped conceptions of justice in law enforcement. Conversations and public events will span topics including the histories of policing in the Americas, Africa, and Europe; contemporary efforts to reform or abolish policing; and work on the nature and possibility of justice in policing. 

“This work is particularly important here and now, in the city where George Floyd was murdered three years ago and where city residents recently voted on a proposal that would ‘end’ the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a new model of public safety,” said project faculty team leader Michelle S. Phelps, an associate professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts on the Twin Cities campus. “While the charter amendment failed at the ballot booth, changes to public safety are still happening on-the-ground that will continue to shape policing here and nationally. The Sawyer Seminar on Just Policing will bring together scholars, activists, community leaders, and the public to ask: What might it take to create just policing?”

Participants will include leading scholars and community activists within and beyond the University, as well as current graduate and professional students. Some events will be open to the public.

The Seminar will be led by an interdisciplinary faculty group: William Jones (History, College of Liberal Arts), Yalile Suriel (History, College of Liberal Arts), Susanna Blumenthal (Law School and History, College of Arts); Michelle S. Phelps (Sociology, College of Liberal Arts); and Sarah Balakrishnan (History, Duke University).

Police outside of Moon Palace Books, May 30, 2020
Minneapolis Police and State Patrol outside of Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis, MN on May 30, 2020. Photo credit Munshots via Unsplash.

For nearly 30 years, the Mellon Foundation’s Sawyer Seminars have brought together faculty, foreign visitors, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students from a variety of fields to support comparative inquiry on pressing social issues.

“We are really excited to be able to bring the Sawyer Seminar back to the University of Minnesota for the 2024–2025 academic year,” said project faculty team leader Yalile Suriel, an assistant professor of history on the Twin Cities campus. “We are confident that it will generate many thought-provoking conversations and hopefully catalyze ongoing conversations happening in Minneapolis and around the globe.”

The Just Policing Sawyer Seminar will fund a research assistant, two PhD candidates, and a postdoctoral scholar. Enrollment information and other opportunities will be shared at General inquiries about the Seminar may be directed to the faculty leadership team at [email protected].

Just Policing will be administratively housed in the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study, a systemwide University hub for interdisciplinary collaboration, which reports to the executive vice president and provost. 


About the Institute for Advanced Study

The Institute for Advanced Study is a systemwide unit of the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Minnesota. We invest in people and incubate projects, build interdisciplinary networks across the University and beyond, advance critical conversations, and are committed to building a just University together. Visit

About the University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota System, with campuses in Crookston, Duluth, Morris, Rochester, and the Twin Cities, is driven by a singular vision of excellence. We are proud of our land-grant mission of world-class education, groundbreaking research, and community-engaged outreach, and we are unified in our drive to serve Minnesota. Visit



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