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Shani Mott, a prominent scholar of Black studies at Johns Hopkins University, passed away in Baltimore at the age of 47. She was deeply committed to using scholarship to address real-world issues, challenging students to examine their backgrounds and the world around them. In her research, she explored how big institutions shape discussions about race in America, particularly within the publishing industry. Dr. Mott also delved into how universities like Johns Hopkins interact with their employees and the majority Black city in which they are located.

As part of her work, Dr. Mott led the Housing Our Story project, which aimed to amplify the voices of Black staff workers at Johns Hopkins who had been overlooked in campus archives. Her approach highlighted the importance of focusing on tangible, real-world issues rather than abstract concepts. Despite her academic pursuits, Dr. Mott encountered discrimination in her personal life. During a mortgage refinancing process, she and her husband experienced bias when the initial appraisal of their home was significantly lower than expected. To mitigate this bias, they presented a white colleague as their stand-in during a subsequent appraisal, which resulted in a significantly higher valuation.

Dr. Mott’s experiences underscored the challenges of studying and living through systemic racism. Despite her deep understanding of discrimination through her research, encountering bias firsthand was a stark reminder of its pervasive impact. She sought to address these issues through her work and advocacy, both in academia and in her local community. Outside of her academic work, Dr. Mott was involved in initiatives such as the Orita’s Cross Freedom School program, which provided educational opportunities for Black youth in Baltimore.

Born in Chicago in 1976, Dr. Mott pursued her education at Wesleyan University, the University of Michigan, and eventually at Johns Hopkins University. Her research focused on midcentury American literature and the portrayal of race in literary works, highlighting the ways in which authors attempted to challenge racial boundaries in their writing. In addition to her scholarly pursuits, Dr. Mott and her family produced online content during the Covid-19 pandemic to provide educational resources for Black children. Her dedication to academic excellence and advocacy for social justice left a lasting impact on her colleagues, students, and community.

Despite being diagnosed with cancer in 2021, Dr. Mott continued to maintain a busy schedule of teaching and research projects. Her commitment to her work remained unwavering, exemplified by her participation in an eight-hour deposition related to the appraisal lawsuit just days before her passing. Colleagues praised her clarity, determination, and resilience during the difficult deposition process, describing it as a “master class” in advocating for justice. Dr. Mott’s legacy endures through her academic contributions, advocacy work, and dedication to addressing racial inequalities in American society.

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