2018-19 Campus Climate Improvement Grants

The 2018-19 Campus Climate Improvement Grants range from $250 to $2,500, and are intended to support projects that help build community and create a more inclusive campus. The funded projects include study circles, seminars, book groups, dinners, film festivals, and more.

Saloonee Adhikari, undergraduate student, UMass First-Generation and Low-Income Guidebook
A guidebook for UMass first-generation and low-income (FLI) students would serve as a vital resource to help students navigate their experience and improve their sense of belonging on campus. The guide would be written from a peer-to-peer perspective, allowing for first-gen and low-income peers who understand the nuances to give advice to other first-gen and low-income students. This would help FLI students feel a deeper sense of community at UMass, which is an essential component of creating a positive campus climate.

Mitch Boucher, Jacqueline Castledine, Julie Skogsbergh, faculty, Social Justice at the Intersections - Storytelling for Community Building Across Difference
Proposed by University Without Walls, this project will allow its participants to engage in a year-long dialogue to promote understanding of differences by producing and listening to personal narratives. Local community activists, faculty, staff, and students in the UWW program are invited to get involved through a series of workshops that teach oral interviewing, podcasting, and the uses of art as mediums for storytelling, collaboration, active listening, and conflict resolution. The proposed activities will promote a culture of effective listening and sharing of stories that will help to encourage understanding of each other and a healthy working and learning environment both within the UWW program and in the campus' collaborative relationships with community organizations. 

Christine Burnett, staff, Pass It On Book Circle
The Pass It On Book Circle is intended to encourage groups from across campus to read and discuss the same book: “Blind Spot, Hidden Biases of Good People” by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald. The book explores the hidden biases we each carry and encourages all to examine their attitudes about things such as ethnicity, gender, social class, disability status, and more. More than 20 copies will be available for use by a new reading group every two months. Groups will have 8-10 weeks to complete the book followed by a facilitated discussion. By reading and discussing the book, participants have an opportunity to engage in discussions across differences, build relationships, and think critically about hidden biases everyone has, recognizing them and promoting better understanding and improved relationships with people who are different from themselves.

Madeleine Charney and Jonathan Crowley, staff, Mindfulness for All
This eight-week series of one-hour sessions will offer secular mindfulness activities such as breathing, gratitude practice, music, mindful movement, contemplative listening, walking meditation, and more. The Mindfulness for All series invites all to participate in activities that may help reduce stress, contributing to the overall positive climate on campus, including in working and studying environments. The group is open to all and will be promoted widely across campus to ensure that everyone, including people from all levels of staff, people of color, transgender people, and differently-abled people, are aware of the opportunity to participate.

Iris Chelaru, staff, Mentorship Program for Campus IT Professionals
This pilot program connects UMass Amherst staff with information technology responsibilities across campus into a supportive community that promotes the sharing of professional and institutional knowledge, problem-solving using diverse perspectives, and career development. The program will be open to anyone with formal and informal IT responsibilities on campus, including but not limited to classified and professional staff. By expanding the boundaries of what's defined as an IT professional, the program will connect more campus groups and challenge a historically monolithic field with limited gender and racial diversity. This group will start a discussion about mentoring and will connect UMass Amherst staff with information technology responsibilities across campus into a community that promotes the sharing of professional and institutional knowledge, problem-solving using diverse perspectives, and career development.

Isabel Espinal and Pete Smith, staff, It Takes a Village to Mentor and Recruit Librarians of Color
The intent of this project is to inform UMass students of color about careers in library science and the importance of increasing diversity in this field. UMass librarians will provide informational sessions and one-on-one mentoring to build relationships with students and teach them more about the library as an inclusive space and library science as a potential career. In addition to mentorship activities with library staff, students will be invited to events in which recent graduates from Master of Library Science programs share their experiences. The project organizers will partner with the Afro American Studies Department, CMASS, and the SBS Academic Fellows program to facilitate positive and productive relationships with students of color across campus as well as a communication pipeline to inform those students about these events.

Keisha Green, faculty, NEPR Media Lab
The NEPR Media Lab is a free afterschool training program in broadcast journalism and radio and web production for high school students in Springfield and Holyoke. Undergraduate students from the journalism department serve as college interns for the program. During the program, high school students develop basic journalism and broadcast skills, including news and commentary writing, on-air announcing, and audio editing. Through this project, college and high school students will work to create and share podcasts with the UMass Amherst community to inspire intergroup dialogue and critical discussions related to the campus climate. The goal is to improve access to STEM programs for communities of color and ultimately create a more inclusive campus. Additionally, the audio content funded through this grant will educate the wide community about issues facing students of color at UMass.

Kirsten Helmer, faculty, First-Year Student Learning Community for Neurodiverse Students
Co-Awardees: Undergraduate student leaders Kaitlin McCarthy and Catherine McEachern, staff and faculty liaisons Anne Ciecko (communication), Kirsten Helmer (Institute for Teaching Excellence & Faculty Development), Ashley Woodman (psychological and brain sciences), and Rebecca Francione (disability services)
The learning community will provide structured support for neurodiverse first-year students who transition from a high-support secondary school environment into the university environment. In this instance, neurodiversity is defined in terms of creating awareness, acceptance, and appreciation of neurocognitive and social/behavioral difference such as autism, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, and more. This year-long learning community will offer a space for neurodiverse students to come together, share experiences and resources, and support each other with the college transition process. The group will meet every week for one hour in an effort to increase a sense of belonging, support, and validation of invisible and less visible difference as constitutive of intersectional identities.

Bryan Monesson-Olson, faculty, Increase STEM Content Accessibility for Students
Project Team: Bryan Monesson-Olson (biochemistry and molecular biology), Kelsey Hall (assistive technology coordinator), Dennis Spencer (3D print services W.E.B. Dubois Digital Media Lab), Lara Al Hariri (chemistry), and Brokk Toggerson (physics)
The focus of this project is to increase STEM content accessibility for students, with the ultimate goal of increasing participation and retention in STEM majors for students with disabilities. STEM content is typically presented in two-dimensional illustrations, but the project team believes they can make these concepts and objects accessible for blind and low vision students by creating 3D models of physics, chemistry, and biological concepts and objects. Once created, the 3D models can be shared online to assist visually impaired students across the globe. In addition to students with disabilities, and in line with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, these materials would provide a new modality for diverse populations of students taking STEM classes.

Daniel Morales, graduate student, Promoting Our Wealth and Educational Resilience (POWER): Recognizing Community Cultural Wealth Through Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies​
POWER is a support group aimed at promoting a welcoming and sustaining environment for racially and linguistically diverse students and faculty on campus. To do this, the group will advocate for a curriculum within the College of Education that integrates racially and linguistically diverse topics and issues in all graduate courses. POWER will draw from ideas presented in the textbook “Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies,” which will be discussed by the support group, which will include 12 students and three faculty members from across the College of Education. This model can then be used within other schools and colleges at UMass Amherst.

Ivory Moulton, undergraduate student, Thank A Service Worker
The Thank a Service Worker Project proposes linking students to dining hall workers in moments of gratitude. A “thank you card” station would be created with the help of SGA. The goal is to help students promote community by learning the names of the staff members who work in their dining hall and show gratitude for each service worker.

Aisha Murdaugh, staff, Disability Services Film Series
The Disability Services Film Series will include three movie screenings followed by facilitated discussions. Staff members from Disability Services will recruit and organize interested UMass community members who experience disability to be part of a panel of students. Prior to a film screening, this group of panelists will briefly share a little about themselves and individual experiences as students with disabilities within the UMass community. The film shown will relate to college students with disabilities and will be shown with the goal of provoking thought and discussion around common challenges and experiences faced within a university setting.

Sonny Nordmarken, graduate student, Transgender Studies Mutual Mentoring Graduate Seminar
The Transgender Studies Mutual Mentoring Graduate Seminar will offer a supportive, generative space where participants can present their research and get feedback from other emerging scholars in the field and foster mutual mentoring and encouragement among graduate students to help them make progress on their research projects. The seminar will meet during the 2018-19 academic year for six separate two-hour meetings. Faculty, staff, and undergraduates working in transgender studies in any discipline across the Five Colleges will also be invited to participate. This seminar, as a year-long effort, will help retain trans studies scholars and trans scholars (both graduate students and faculty) at UMass, which will also help retain trans undergraduate students and staff.

Autumn Phaneuf, graduate student, Engineering International and Immigrant Family Dinners
A community of support will be created through seven family dinners for international and immigrant graduate and undergraduate students in the College of Engineering. During these dinners, students will have a chance to connect with one another and meet peers who may have similar experiences. In addition, the dinners will include discussions and presentations on topics relevant to these students, including how to handle being homesick, ways to find common ground for inclusion and belonging, understanding the expectations of the U.S. education system, dealing with prejudice, and more. The final dinner will be an International Celebration Night open to the whole community within the College of Engineering as a way to foster connection across difference.

David Reinhard, faculty, Bridging the Great Divide: Democrat-Republican Rivalry and Its Consequences for Diversity, Disparity, and Inclusion on Campus
Through this project, there will be several conversation groups at the undergraduate level, graduate student level, staff and faculty level to start discussions about political diversity in the UMass Amherst community. Educational materials will be developed to assist people as they learn how to manage political diversity and rivalry in a constructive manner that avoids polarization.

Korka Sall, graduate student, Bi-weekly Inter-departmental Brown Bag Series of African Graduate Students and Scholars
The goal of the bi-weekly Brown Bag Series is to share expertise from African scholars with UMass students in a format and space that is open to the whole campus community. The series will promotes debate, understanding, and learning, as well as celebrate African scholarship on campus, educating the campus community on research projects focusing on solving various issues different countries of the African continent are facing now. The speakers of the series come from diverse backgrounds but share successful embracing of differences and promoting inclusion. Of special importance is the fact that the series of discussions will be happening during the lunch time over the catered lunch thus highlighting one of the important features of African cultures as bringing together the community over the shared food.

Aurora Santiago-Ortiz, graduate student, Intergroup Study Circle
A diverse group of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty will come together to engage in a series of facilitated discussions on issues of social justice that are intersectional and relevant to academic life and campus culture. Readings from the book “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds” and other media will be discussed using intergroup dialogue practices, with the goal of building an inclusive and diverse community on campus and providing the opportunity for communication and learning across differences. Participants will be encouraged to use what they learn in the group, along with their own strengths and experiences, to create tangible action steps and proposals to meet the needs of various constituencies on campus.

Lily Tang, undergraduate student, Asian American Film Festival
The project consists of organizing UMass Asian American Film Festival to showcase three films by Asian American filmmakers who will be visiting campus as well. The film screenings will be followed by the discussion on how the filmmakers use their platform to spread knowledge and awareness of different social and historical issues. The organizers will select films/filmmakers who hold multiple identities (gender, sex, ability, etc.) outside of being Asian American in order to highlight how their intersectional identities impact the work they do. The main audience for the festival will be undergraduate students, but the event will be open to the whole campus community and will present an opportunity for all attendees to bond through a shared experience and spark conversation about issues of representation and diversity as well as what it means for UMass to not only celebrate diversity but also genuinely commit to the work. The goal is to empower participants to realize that they can tap into their networks and platforms in order to be a voice for change, as these filmmakers have used their craft to do so.

Loretta Yarlow, staff, For Freedoms Town Hall
This grant would help support two days of public lectures, artist visits, and a culminating public Town Hall art event with internationally-known artists, activists, and founders of For Freedoms Hank Willis-Thomas and Eric Gottesman. For Freedoms is the first artist-run super PAC, which is dedicated to using art as a catalyst for public critical discourse. It is in part inspired by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vision of the four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The series of campus-wide events will introduce the work of these artists. Using their model, the series will provide a platform to collectively examine these four freedoms and how they impact students’ experiences on campus. The primary goal includes offering an outlet for considering how personal and collective freedoms are impacted on campus, provide a structure of engagement that can be easily replicated, and build a network of like-minded people across campus who can continue to work together after these events.