People of various appearances and skin colors look in different directions towards one another.

The ACLS Intention Foundry (IF) is a series of multi-day in person and virtual workshops focused on advancing equity, inclusion, and justice within the academy. Scholars, college and university administrators, and academic society leaders come together to identify and develop actionable solutions to social justice issues. IF is made possible by generous funding from the Mellon Foundation. Designed by Director of IDEA (Intention Design for an Equitable Academy) Program, Jovonne Bickerstaff, and co-led by Program Officer Keyanah Nurse, IF fosters partnerships, creative speculation, and collaborative problem-solving.

Now in its third year, IF welcomes participation from all ACLS member societies, each year convening 10-15 society representatives and selected scholars across the humanities and interpretive social sciences. Over the course of its first two years, IF hosted 84 scholars from 44 learned societies, 28 university leaders, and four graduate student assistants. The 2023 summer sessions will convene participants across cohorts to share insights from ACLS’s analysis of the initiative’s first three years and gather their perspectives on the program’s next phases.

A big part of the creation of the Intention Foundry was making sure… scholars of color, first generation scholars, scholars who are marginalized and not well-supported in the academy… were centered– not just at the table, but instrumental in setting the agenda.

Jovonne Bickerstaff, Director of IDEA Programs

Transforming Intentions into Impacts

The Intention Foundry lays the groundwork for participants to collectively imagine what is possible. At its outset, scholars present their dream change initiatives, or “moonshots,” aimed at promoting anti-racism, equity, and justice in their respective work and communities. Facilitators, from across all of ACLS’s departments, provide frameworks to deepen group discussions in a focused way. With a focus on problem-setting, the necessary, yet under-appreciated, precursor to problem-solving, the participants begin to develop the seeds of their interventions.

Spring Sessions
  • Evaluate intentionality and ethics of care 
  • Reframe the relationships between diversity, equity, and inclusion 
  • Discuss technical vs. adaptive challenges
Summer Sessions
  • Strategize first steps in problem-solving
  • Examine constituencies – anticipate anxieties and points of resistance
  • Receive feedback from university leaders
The 2021 Intention Foundry helped amplify successful work and devise new coordinated strategies for anti-racism efforts that support historically and systemically disadvantaged groups in academia, especially Black, Indigenous, Latinx and first-generation scholars. We engaged in collaborative problem-solving and moved fruitful ideas from planning to pilot and implementation. Brenda Martinez, PhD.

A scholar from the inaugural Intention Foundry representing the Modern Language Association

Towards a New Academy

IF positions scholars from historically and systemically marginalized groups to set the agenda for change in the Academy. It is one part of how ACLS is broadening its work beyond fellowships to accelerate change necessary for the humanities and social sciences to thrive. ACLS is focused on providing more pathways to success for scholars who have less access to support systems and networks. This means creating space for scholars to build alliances and relationships across institutions and fields of study. It requires the kind of wide-ranging and difficult conversations that IF cultivates.


Through the Intention Foundry and initiatives like the Luce Design Workshop, the Leadership Institute for a New Academy (LINA), and the Commission on Digital Humanities and Digital Justice, ACLS is extending the possibilities of its work and impact. These programs focus on making positive changes within higher education at a time of sweeping shifts in the humanities.

At the end of each Intention Foundry, ACLS identifies initiatives to pilot in the upcoming year. We are working to organize additional programming that would directly provide resources to our participating member societies.