Faculty, Community Groups Lay Groundwork for Center for Racial Justice and Urban Affairs in Springfield

Springfield skyline

Foundational work for a proposed center for racial justice and urban affairs at the UMass Center at Springfield is underway as 14 teams conduct research and explore collaborations with community organizations in the city and nearby Holyoke.

Working with $175,000 in planning grants, the faculty and community partners are focusing on a number of issues related to youth engagement, health disparities, poverty and maternal/child welfare, environmental justice; work and labor; sustainability, housing, criminal justice and penal reform.

Some of the researchers will also delve into the intersection between their topics and the overarching themes of cultural heritage and ethnic/racial discrimination. The key component of the work is the involvement of the community, says Enobong (Anna) Branch, the chancellor’s faculty advisor for diversity and inclusive excellence and chair of the academic advisory committee for the planned center.

Faculty teams are working directly with a range of community organizations that have been engaged first-hand in all of the issues in the two cities, she says.

“Nearly 100 community partners are directly engaged in or will be touched by the work of the faculty teams,” Branch says. “This will formalize ongoing work that faculty and community partners have traditionally pursued on their own, and inform how the university can better support this work.”

By working in tandem with faculty, Branch adds, “community leaders can think about the role research can play in fulfilling the needs of residents” and help shape the direction of each project in a grassroots way.

The proposed center for racial justice and urban affairs originated in a line item for the UMass Center at Springfield in the state budget approved last summer by the Legislature. The language called for $250,000 to establish the center, according to Branch.

The release of the funds late last year prompted the campus administration to begin a “visioning phase” for the center in January. Branch and Elizabeth Chilton, associate vice chancellor for research and engagement, were charged with oversight authority for the initiative and a 14-member academic advisory committee was formed.

Discussions led to a framework concept of the center, which “would be a hybrid between a traditional academic center that serves as an incubator and facilitator of faculty research and a community partner that facilitates participatory action research, student involvement, community engagement, and pathways into the university.” The UMass Center at Springfield would serve as as its primary portal.

The state money is providing seed funds for exploring the potential for the center in terms of academic expertise, community and municipal partnerships, and potential future funding, says Branch.

Each of the funded projects is expected to produce a report outlining the research potential and proposed plan, possibilities for community engagement, and the policy implications or interventions associated with the work. The reports, which are due June 30, are also expected to identify potential sources of funding to establish the center and facilitate future research.

The project and their research teams are as follows:

“Health Disparities and Food Insecurity among Migrant and Ethnic Minorities,” Lorraine Cordeiro and Lindiwe Sibeko, nutrition.

“Community Engaged Research on the Health Impacts of Chronic Poverty,” Kirby Deater-Deckard and Maureen Perry-Jenkins, psychological and brain sciences.

“Racial Justice and Accessibility of Public Open Space in Urban Areas,” Michael DiPasquale, Frank Sleegers and Elizabeth Brabec, landscape architecture and regional planning. This team is working with Todd Crosset, sport management, who is studying “Impact of Re-Segregation on Youth Engagement in Open Space.”

“Housing Crisis and Racial Justice in Springfield,” Toussaint Losier, Afro-American studies.

“A Collaborative Vision for Racial Justice Research at the Community-School Nexus: Engaging Springfield Youth in a Participatory Planning Process,” Kysa Nygreen, education, Jen Sandler, sociology, and Tara Parrish, Pioneer Valley Project.

“Community-Directed Efforts to Address Racial Disparities in Health,” Dean E. Robinson, political science, and Mark C. Pachucki, sociology.

“Assessing Policy and Pursuing Sustained University Engagement with Springfield,” Fred Rose, public policy, Ellen Pader, landscape architecture and regional planning and public policy, Lee Badgett, economics and public policy, Betsy Schmidt, public policy, and Charles Schweik, environmental conservation and public policy.

“Addressing the Needs of Veterans in the Criminal Justice System,” Jamie Rowen, political science.

“Gender-Responsive Reentry Programs and Consequences for Criminalized Women of Color,” Melody Slashinski, health promotion and policy.

“Reaching Out to and Collaborating with Asian-American Communities in Springfield/Pioneer Valley,” Richard T. Chu, history, Krishna C. Poudel, health policy and promotion, and C.N. Le, sociology.

“Western Massachusetts Sustainable Equity Network,” Joseph Krupczynski and Ellen Correa, Community Engagement and Service Learning. This project is collaborating with Timothy Randhir, environmental conservation, who is researching “Environmental Justice and Sustainability in Urban Areas.”

“Participatory Action Research and Public Education for Immigrant´s Rights and Racial Justice: Blacks, Latino and Immigrants in Holyoke and Springfield,” Agustin-Lao-Montes and Dario Vasquez, sociology. They are collaborating with Amilcar Shabazz, Afro-American studies, who is studying “Greater Springfield’s Intersectional Cultural Heritage: Managing the Ecology and Economics of Community Identity.”

“Mapping Policy Impacts on Pioneer Valley Latino Communities,” Millie Thayer, sociology and Kevin Young, history.

“Pursuing Environmental and Food Justice,” Catherine Sands, Stockbridge School of Agriculture and Fertile Ground, Elizabeth Wills O’Gilvie, Springfield Food Policy Council, Ibrahim Ali, Gardening the Community, and Neftali Duran, Nuestras Raices/Nuestra Comida.