SPHHS faculty among groups laying groundwork for Center for Racial Justice and Urban Affairs in Springfield

From left to right: Lorraine Cordeiro, Lindiwe Sibeko, Melody Slashinski, and Krishna Poudel

March 30, 2017

Foundational work for a proposed Center for Racial Justice and Urban Affairs at the UMass Center at Springfield is underway as fourteen teams from the University of Massachusetts Amherst conduct research and explore collaborations with community organizations in the city and nearby Holyoke.

Three of the fourteen projects include faculty from the SPHHS, including:

  • “Health Disparities and Food Insecurity among Migrant and Ethnic Minorities,” Lorraine Cordeiro and Lindiwe Sibeko, Nutrition.
  • “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,” Krishna Poudel, Health Promotion and Policy, with Richard T. Chu, History, and C.N. Le, Sociology.

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.

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, 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.

“Nearly 100 community partners are directly engaged in or will be touched by the work of the faculty teams. 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 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.

More information and a complete list of projects and their research teams can be found here.