Research News

Paul C. Taylor receives $350K Mellon Foundation grant for EDI study

Paul C. Taylor, W. Alton Jones Professor and professor of philosophy, has received an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to seek out patterns in the way people and organizations think about equity, diversity and inclusion, which can impact EDI interventions.  

The $350,000 award will fund a three-year review of literature to identify frameworks related to EDI to see if they differ. “Everybody is talking about equity, diversity and inclusion, but it’s not clear we’re all talking about the same things,” Taylor said.  

For example, when an organization refers to a “diversity” program, it may be unclear if the program targets one specific area, like racial or intellectual diversity, or addresses multiple diversity-related issues. Differing frameworks could unwittingly undermine the success of those interventions designed to improve EDI efforts, but the only way to evaluate this hypothesis is to identify the frameworks underwriting the interventions. 

“Imagine a group of people convening to solve a problem without ever checking to make sure they agree on what the problem is or what a solution looks like,” Taylor said. “When measuring improvement, you have to decide what ‘better’ means and what counts as improvement. Until you settle this conceptual question, you won’t know what to measure or how to compare those cases.” 

If the study confirms differing frameworks govern EDI work, then future studies could assess the implications of working in one framework versus another in building EDI interventions, which could help organizations improve the efficacy of their EDI initiatives. 

“Paul Taylor’s creativity and insight will be magnified by this generous support,” said John G. Geer, Ginny and Conner Searcy Dean of the College of Arts and Science. “His important scholarship will improve our understanding of EDI on a broad scale and will, ultimately, improve the ways that we talk about and advance EDI efforts.”  

Much of Taylor’s work focuses on the philosophy of race. His book Black Is Beautiful: A Philosophy of Black Aesthetics, published in 2016, examines the intersection of African American philosophy and Black aesthetics, which refers to “the practice of using art, criticism or analysis to explore the role that expressive objects and practices play in creating and maintaining Black life-worlds.” 

The grant will further augment his work and increase opportunities for trans-disciplinary collaborations. “It’s uncommon for traditional humanists to seek grants,” Taylor said. “We often work alone on solitary research projects or in small-scale partnerships, but this is not the only way to live the life of the mind. Grants help us scale up our collaborations, deepen our scholarly connections and increase the impact of our work.” 

Taylor obtained the grant with the assistance of Research Development and Support, which aids faculty members in developing proposals to be pitched to private foundations and federally funded opportunities. Services include searches for new sponsors, coordination and team building for proposals of any size, content development and draft review. Research Development and Support is in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Innovation. To learn more or to request services, email 

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation started in 1969 and provides grants in four core program areas: Arts and Culture; Higher Learning; Humanities in Place; and Public Knowledge. Since 1970, Vanderbilt University has received approximately $19.5 million in Mellon Foundation grants for more than 40 projects, including Taylor’s.