2021 American Council of Learned Societies Leading Edge Fellowship Award Recipient


Not many individuals are strong enough to carry the weight of injustice and then fight for what is right. But as institutions of higher education increase the recruitment and retention of BIPOC faculty, research is shedding light on institutional and cultural racism. Julia Mollenthiel is a bright scholar that is paving the way with her research.

After graduating from Howard University and the University of Miami with her English Literature undergraduate and graduate degrees respectively, Julia passionately set a goal to address racial issues present in academic settings. This drive fueled her research and led to her receiving the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Leading Edge Fellowship award.  

The ACLS Leading Edge Fellowship is an award that calls for scholars in the humanities to contribute to meaningful social justice projects that drive social change and help to solve problems in our society. Recent Ph.D. graduates are placed with nonprofit organizations for up to 12 months to tackle significant societal issues within the community while developing professional skills. The ACLS Fellowship expects that its exceptional recipients, like Julia, play a major role in positively impacting their communities.

Julia’s interest in Black Studies and the fight for social justice started during her freshman year at Howard when she took a course in African American Literature. This led to her writing an essay inspired by Jordan Peele’s film Get Out during her graduate studies. Using her essay as a baseline, Julia began to utilize horror films as a framework to complete her dissertation and revise it into a book known as Black Horror, White Terror.  Her book demands national recognition of black fears and the black experience in America as it interconnects with horror films. She plans on highlighting how white terror in films was used to reinforce racist notions against Black Americans both on and off the big screen, and how black fear is a detrimental injustice to the quality of life for Black Americans. Her book is currently in its final stages and will be available on the University of Miami repository in 2023.

Julia’s dedication to highlighting racial inequalities in her book wasn’t the only element of her application that helped her earn the ACLS Fellowship. Her experiences with Teach for America (TFA) and her internships on Capitol Hill and the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington D.C. were also contributing factors. TFA trains its members to teach in disadvantaged schools in low-income districts to advance students both academically and personally. After witnessing the repercussions of systemic racism within the school system, Julia wanted to focus her work on combatting educational equity. “I became dedicated to closing the opportunity gap and demolishing the school to prison pipeline that denies minority students the same opportunities and quality education as their white counterparts,” said Julia. With Julia’s core personal values reflecting both the TFA and ACLS mission statements, the intimate knowledge she gained while working at TFA will enhance her postdoctoral work.

During her fellowship year, the ACLS assigned Julia to partner with the nonprofit organization Brotherhood Sister Sol. This organization provides opportunities to young Black and Latinx students living in underprivileged communities by offering educational experiences that will help them overcome their economic and social disadvantages. Julia plans to write white papers that will help educate the public on color-based prejudices in the school system. She would like to focus on issues that are critical to NYC’s youth of color and write policy briefs to advocate policy changes. Julia will also be leading a research team and developing workshops for teachers wishing to use anti-racist pedagogies in the classroom.

After the completion of her postdoctoral program, Julia aspires to earn a position as a tenured professor at a university with an established African American Studies program, while continuing her passion for nonprofit work.

As a first-generation college student, and affectionally known as a ‘Black Studies Scholar’ by her loved ones, Julia has now forged a path that no one in her family has walked. Her parents are extremely proud, and Julia’s drive and passion are sure to make a positive mark on society.