University News

Two profs earn Guggenheim Fellowships

Professors receive funding to pursue their respective interests in mental health, museum education

Staff Writer
Thursday, April 16, 2015

Two Brown faculty members were granted Guggenheim Fellowships last week to pursue scholarship and artistic projects, marking the first time since 2008 that a member of the school’s faculty has received the prestigious award.

Christine Montross MD’06, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, and Steven Lubar, professor of history, American studies and history of art and architecture, received the awards from the Guggenheim Foundation.

Montross said she plans to use the fellowship to write a book with the working title “Acquainted With the Night: Mental Illness in the American Prison System.” The nonfiction work will focus on people who are imprisoned due to misinterpretation of their mental illnesses, she said.

In the book, Montross will combine her backgrounds of nonfiction writing and psychology, she said, adding that “Brown has always been a place where I have been encouraged to combine my medical practice with my writing.”

As part of her psychiatric practice, Montross worked in an inpatient hospital where she saw patients who came from the criminal justice system for reasons that were “clearly related to criminal behaviors,” she said. The reasons that these patients ended up in prison were often “murkier” because they behaved in ways that did not align with “social expectations of behavior,” she said.

“Increasingly as budgets are cut for mental health services, people have fewer and fewer opportunities to obtain consistent psychiatric care,” Montross said. Rather than receive proper treatment, people whose behavior is perceived as outside of “social norms” due to their mental illnesses are taken to prison, she said.

This perceived injustice toward those suffering from mental illness drove Montross to write the book so she could “shed light” on the issue of not providing “adequate psychiatric care to our most vulnerable citizens,” she said.

In the last couple of decades, a shift has occurred in which more people have been discharged from psychiatric facilities and then entered the criminal justice system, Montross said. As the number of people in psychiatric facilities has decreased, the number of people in the criminal justice system has increased, she said. She categorized this phenomenon as a “trans-institutionalization” in which people went from “therapeutic” institutions to “non-therapeutic and punitive” institutions.

Lubar said he also intends to use the Guggenheim Fellowship to write a nonfiction book, with the working title “Finding the Lost Museum.” He will take a semester off to complete the book, which will examine the history of museums as well as the issues museums face today.

Lubar said he hopes the book will raise “interesting questions” about museums and provide insight on the organization and collection of artifacts. He also hopes the work reminds people who work in museums “about their interesting history which they’ve forgotten” and that they “can help shape conversations that are deep and historically important.”

His inspiration came from working with students on a Jenks Society for Lost Museums project, he said, adding that he imagines each chapter will begin with a story from the Jenks Museum.

“I really want the book to help shape the conversations about what museums should be,” he said.

The process of applying for the Guggenheim Fellowship consists of writing a letter to the Guggenheim Foundation about the project one wants to pursue, Lubar said. The fellowship is a “pretty easy thing to apply for,” he said.

The Guggenheim Fellowship is awarded to individuals who have “demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts,” according to the Guggenheim Foundation’s website. While nearly 4,000 individuals apply each year, only 200 awards are granted.