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CENTRO, The Center For Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College
Bridging the Divides Initiative

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The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College seeks to convene a broad array of researchers, writers, thinkers, and creators from across Puerto Rico’s geographic communities for collaborative study about our collective future. Building on Centro’s 50-year legacy of collaborative and interdisciplinary research, the goal is to create benchmark publications, media products, and artistic projects that can help bridge our divides, create bridges of understanding, and forge new theoretical foundations, policy recommendations, and conceptual and material pathways to reimagine Puerto Rico’s future.

With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Centro is launching a new series of Study Groups. The first group will kick off in Summer of 2022 in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico Law School, focused on the long-standing question of Puerto Rico's decolonization. The conveners of the group are Dr. Yarimar Bonilla, Executive Director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, and Dr. Efrén Rivera Ramos, full professor and former Dean of the UPR Law School.

The Decolonization Study Group will run from June 2022 to May 2023, with the first half devoted to collective reading and discussion and the second half focused on finalizing collective and individual projects. The group will consist of two co-conveners and a “seed group” (grupo semilla) of ten scholars, journalists and artists/cultural workers from both Puerto Rico and the diaspora who, along with a team of research assistants, will serve as collective authors of the final group projects.  

Members of the seed group are expected to dedicate a minimum of 10 hours a week to the project. Activities will consist of: biweekly zoom meeting, workshops, panels, roundtable discussions and public lectures. Members will participate in two in-person retreats: one at the University of Puerto Rico and another at Hunter College (Covid restrictions permitting). All meetings will be bilingual with interpretation provided, and final products will be available in both English and Spanish.

Final products from participants can include: books, essays, digital exhibitions, interviews, podcasts, artistic works, and journalistic pieces aimed at informing the public. Group participants will have the full support of Centro librarians, archivists, data scientists, GIS specialists, and access to research assistants to support their work. They will also have access to the library resources of the University of Puerto Rico School of Law.

Scholars in the seed group will receive a fellowship in the amount of $20,000. These funds can be used for course buyouts, research costs (books, datasets, travel to archives, etc), summer salary or a stipend, depending on each scholar’s need. Scholars will submit an individual budget request to be approved by the Project Director. 

Artists, cultural Workers, and journalists in the seed group will receive a fellowship of $30,000 to support their work, payable in installments across the fellowship period (artists from any tradition or field that would benefit from interdisciplinary research and collaboration are welcome to apply). 

Application materials can be submitted in either English or Spanish. Submissions will be evaluated by a bilingual advisory committee that will present recommendations to the co-conveners.

  • The deadline to submit applications for the seed group is March 15, 2022.

  • Notification of acceptance of proposals will be sent in mid April 2022. 

  • The first retreat for the seed group of researchers and creators will be held in Puerto Rico in the summer of 2022.

In addition, the group will recruit a broad array of thought leaders, activists, scholars, and the community at large to form part of thematic working groups, panel discussions, workshops, lectures, and town hall meetings. (To express interest in forming part of the larger pool of participants, please fill out this form.


In the wake of Hurricane Maria, there has been a renewed examination of Puerto Rico's relationship to the United States. This has created a window of opportunity for imagining Puerto Rico's future, and for interrogating what decolonization could look like. However, despite growing public debate, there is little understanding about what process, principles, and precedents should guide a twenty-first century decolonization process. Questions posed at both federal hearings and international forums reveal a lack of basic understanding in Washington, D.C. and beyond – not only about Puerto Rico’s political history, but also about the imperial character of the United States. Although the United States is made up of  a constellation of states, territories, citizens, and non-citizens, the purposefully “hidden” nature of its empire has meant that there is no established procedure or common language for addressing the question of American decolonization. 

Given this landscape, many outside of Puerto Rico are left wondering how to support initiatives for self-determination: Should statehood be viewed as the logical extension of civil rights to a disenfranchised population? Or should the question be addressed as a matter of national self-determination subject to the norms of international law? Should independence be stressed upon as a universal right and inevitable mode of decolonization, even if it does not have broad electoral support?

Within Puerto Rico, residents have their own set of questions. Despite repeated plebiscites and political campaigns, the true implications and consequences of different policy options remain unknown. What would be the economic, social, and cultural repercussions of statehood? What political and economic opportunities would independence allow? How have alternative agreements of Free Association (in places like Palau, Micronesia, etc.) developed and evolved, and what might be possible in a Caribbean context? How should a decolonization process address questions of racial inequality, gender justice, LGBTQ rights, and other matters of social exclusion that have haunted postcolonial nations? Lastly, questions remain about the involvement of the diaspora in the decolonization process: Should Puerto Ricans abroad be able to participate in a constitutional assembly? Should they have a vote in a binding referendum? What are the best practices for a decolonization process in which the diaspora outnumbers the local population?

Through public-facing events featuring scholars and activists from a global context, as well as closed sessions for internal discussion, the Decolonization Study Group seeks to forge new political and conceptual pathways for Puerto Rico’s future. This requires the participation of scholars who can ground the conversation in historical and legal precedents, community leaders from both the archipelago and the diaspora who can place those precedents in relationship to contemporary quotidian challenges, journalists who can carry out political investigations and shape public debate (see for example The 1619 Project or The Case for Reparations), and artists and cultural workers who can bring to the table what theorists describe as “structures of feeling,” or emerging forms of sociality that are best encapsulated through aesthetic language. (See for example La Puerta.) 

The final goal of this study group will be a White Paper with concrete policy recommendations for Puerto Rico’s political, economic, and social future. However, beyond a policy report that can be used for shaping political conversations in Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, we would also create a media hub featuring long-form journalistic pieces, artistic projects, interviews, podcasts, and other media products created by group members throughout the project period to shape and inform public debate. 



Applicants should prepare the following (materials can be submitted in English or Spanish): 

  • Statement of Interest (1-2 pages/500-1,000 words max) addressing the following: 

    • Why do you wish to participate in a study group on the theme of decolonization? How have you thought about this topic in the past, what expertise do you hold in this area, or how does it relate to your artistic practice?

    • Why do you wish to be in an interdisciplinary conversation with scholars, journalists, and artists about this topic? How do you think your work will be strengthened through such dialogue? What collaborations do you imagine?

    • Participants will be expected to devote about 10 hours per week for one year to group meetings and their individual projects. Please explain how you will balance this with your other obligations. Will you have course releases, a sabbatical, or some other form of time off?

  • Project Description (1-2 pages /500-1,000 words max): 

    • In addition to participating in collective study, discussion, and writing practices, participants are expected to carry out their own individual projects. Please describe the project you would develop during the study group period, stating its methodology, goals, and significance (project possibilities include but are not limited to: books, novels, graphic novels, journal articles, long-form journalism, documentaries, podcasts, art exhibits, theater plays, cinematic projects, or any other creative proposal that requires an extensive period of research and writing or production).  

    • Please explain at what stage the project is at and what work will be completed during the fellowship year. 

  • Participants will also be asked to provide the following within the application portal:

    • Scholars: Current CV and a writing sample. Those with a university appointment should also provide a letter of support from your institution ensuring that you would be allowed to accept the fellowship. 

    • Journalists: A resume and a selection of three (3) published pieces. Staff journalists should also provide a letter of support from their organization ensuring that they would be allowed to accept the fellowship.

    • Artists and cultural workers: CV, artist statement, and portfolio. Those with a staff position at a cultural institution should include a letter of support ensuring they are able to accept the fellowship.

For questions about this program please write to: mellonpr@hunter.cuny.edu


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