Confronting and Combating Racism

The projects below are co-sponsored by Poverty Solutions and the Center for Social Solutions supporting action-based research aimed at ending systemic and institutional racism.

Successful action-based research projects​ ​cut across disciplines, and address challenges such as systemic oppression, organizational exclusion, institutional discrimination, neglectful policy, and violence against the minds, bodies, and cultures of people of color.

U-M’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; Michigan Engineering; the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; the Law School; the National Center for Institutional Diversity; the Provost’s Office; and the School of Social Work also support the grant program, which is part of a larger, university-wide commitment to fund scholarship, teaching, and service initiatives related to racial equity.

In the U.S., the first half of 2020 saw a sharp rise in hate incidents targeting Asian Americans, who have been scapegoated for the novel coronavirus. This project, which is a collaboration with the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center and its community partners, aims to improve public understanding of contemporary anti-Asian racism and resistance. To study the surge in anti-Asian hate incidents during the Covid-19 pandemic, a team of student researchers at the University of Michigan and at universities across the country will work together to gather and analyze data about hate incidents reported in news media, with the goal of understanding what types of hate incidents have happened, where and when they have occurred, and who has been affected. In addition, the research team will study how Asian American community organizations and government institutions have responded to the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents. Researchers will document and analyze the forms of organizing, protest, and resistance undertaken by Asian Americans, as well as the policy changes for which Asian Americans have advocated at the local, state, and national levels. The research team will share its findings through a public-facing digital platform, which will feature an interactive map, analysis, and other resources that will inform public policy, guide the grassroots advocacy and activism of Asian American community organizations, and support anti-racism education projects.

Melissa Borja, assistant professor in the Department of American Culture and core faculty in the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program, University of Michigan

COVID-19 has further exposed the racial inequalities within the U.S., notably in the disproportionate mortality rates of Black people. Black families must adapt to a new racialized landscape that includes the precarious intersections of public health, economic, and racial crises. This project uses a mixed methods case study design to amplify how Black families make decisions and leverage resources in support of their children’s mathematics education during COVID-19. This project will examine:

  • how Black families navigate decision-making related to educational offerings during the pandemic;
  • everyday forms of school participation;
  • whether and how parents and children may refuse to participate in everyday school activities; and
  • resources families may access to support their children’s educational success.

Findings from this project will be used to build and improve communication channels to district officials, develop reparative solutions for schools and communities in the post-COVID academic year, and devise policy proposals to support Black homeschooling movements.

Maisie L. Gholson, assistant professor, School of Education, University of Michigan
Danny Martin, professor, College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago
Erika Bullock, assistant professor, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison

For the past half century, congressional and state legislative districts in the U.S. have been drawn to equalize the total population of each district. But recently, legislators in several states with Republican-controlled legislatures have hinted at potentially changing the unit of apportionment to eligible citizen voters. This new approach has been empowered by the Trump administration’s recently-announced plans to report estimates of citizen and non-citizen population down to the census block level. Under this new approach, called citizen voting-age population (CVAP) equalization, legislative and congressional districts would be designed to equalize the number of adult citizens, rather than total population.

What would be the racial impact of these ongoing attempts to draw districts based on CVAP? In contemporary America, non-citizens consist mostly of racial and ethnic minorities. Conversely, adult citizens are a whiter and more Republican group than the American population as a whole. Therefore, if districts were drawn to equalize CVAP rather than total population, racial minorities could potentially be packed into a smaller number of legislative districts. This project aims to analyze the effects that such a shift would have on the electoral power of voters of color. By examining whether the electoral influence of racial minorities is reduced when districts are apportioned using CVAP, this project will provide insight into how this policy change could affect racial equality in legislative elections.

Jowei Chen, associate professor, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan

Racial inequities in American policing are at the forefront of public consciousness in 2020. This research project will evaluate the physiological stress Black and white people experience during routine traffic stops, offering insights on the relationship between policing and minority health. Study participants will listen to audio recordings of actual traffic stops, as recorded by police body cameras; half of the recordings will be randomly-selected traffic stops involving Black drivers and half will be randomly-selected traffic stops involving white drivers. Researchers will monitor study participants’ perceptions and physiological reactions to these encounters using galvanic skin conductance (GSR) and electrocardiography (EKG). The study will offer insights into disparate police treatment of white and Black drivers as well as disparate impact of these interactions on white and Black people. By understanding the role of officer communication and the divergent ways people experience these routine police encounters, we can better intervene on these institutional interactions and train officers in communicating during routine interactions.

Nicholas Camp, assistant professor, Organizational Studies, University of Michigan

The Detroit River Story Lab will work with regional organizations to co-produce and disseminate historically nuanced, contextually aware, and culturally rooted stories recasting the role of the Detroit River in the lives of adjacent communities from an anti-racist perspective and documenting its history as part of the Underground Railroad. The Story Lab will do this through three channels:

  • Secondary education: In partnership with regional scholars from the Essex County Black Historical Research Society, researchers will work with curriculum development experts at the U-M School of Education and local teachers to develop new experiential curriculum on the history and enduring effects of the Detroit River’s role in the Underground Railroad for middle and high school students in Michigan and Ontario.
  • Public history: In partnership with the Detroit River Project, a public history organization spearheaded by local activist, historian, and Underground Railroad descendent Kimberley Simmons, researchers will help to advance the group’s ongoing bid to secure a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for the Detroit River, in order to forge deep links to this history with the image of the city on the international stage.
  • Journalism: In partnership with the new community-based journalism nonprofit BridgeDetroit and its Pulitzer-winning director Stephen Henderson, researchers will work to promote public discussion of the place of Black history in recent efforts to redevelop the waterfront and claim it as a site of cultural heritage.

David Porter, professor, English Department, University of Michigan

On June 10, 2020, the Genesee County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. This research project aims to ensure this resolution has a meaningful impact on the health and well-being of residents of color, extending beyond mere rhetoric. To accomplish that, researchers will:

  • Develop a decision-making Community Action Council with about 20 members responsible for developing an evidence-based strategic plan to eliminate racist policies and practices impacting the health and well-being of Genesee County residents of color;
  • Develop and formalize a strategic plan for eliminating racist policies and practices that impact the health and well-being of residents of color in Genesee County, with the Community Action Council’s guidance and opportunity for public input at virtual townhall meetings and targeted correspondence with stakeholders; and
  • develop a website with anti-racist policies and practices resources to assist other local, state, and national organizations to assess their current policies and practices as well as adopt anti-racist policies and practices that impact the health and well-being of people of color.

Lisa M. Lapeyrouse, associate professor, Department of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Michigan – Flint