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Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Research Program

In July 2020, Chancellor Jones announced a $2 million annual commitment by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to focus the intellectual and scholarly talent of our university to examine two of the greatest challenges facing our society and seek new solutions. Recognizing the critical need for universities across our nation to prioritize research focused on systemic racial inequities and injustices that exist not only in our communities but in higher education itself, the Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Research Program will provide support for academic research and the expansion of community-based knowledge that advances the understanding of systemic racism and generationally embedded racial disparity.

School of Social Work Faculty/Staff Awarded Projects

Research Focus Areas

For 2022, the Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Program will focus on three critical research areas that are currently the most important and complex challenges facing local communities, states, and our nation:

  • Systemic racism and social justice
  • Law enforcement and criminal justice reform
  • Disparities in health and health care

Projects may include but are not limited to:

  • Research that can lead to the removal of barriers that inhibit access to education, opportunity, support, and resources.
  • The interrogation of structural and institutionalize systems of disparity and disenfranchisement.
  • Strategies for increasing perspective taking and understanding.
  • Strategies for the reduction of violence and harm that can increase racial equity, well-being, safety, and belonging.

Projects began on July 1, 2022 and will end on June 30, 2023.

Trauma-Informed Simulations: A Strategy to Address Community Mental Health Trauma Resulting from Systemic Racism and Police Violence – $75,000

Project Leaders: Chi-Fang Wu (School of Social Work); Kevin Tan (School of Social Work); Terry Ostler (School of Social Work); Alice K. Cary (U of I Police Department); David Chih (Student Affairs, Asian American Cultural Center)

In this Call to Action, we take a trauma-informed approach to address the institutional structures that sustain the mental health sequelae of racial trauma and police violence through live simulations enacted in community libraries. These simulations will be developed through a collaboration with the School of Social Work, the UIUC Police Department, and four UIUC cultural centers, starting with the Asian American Culture Center, each representing key stakeholders to address systematic racism in the university and broader communities. They will be informed by lived experiences of racism, hatred, and police violence that have taken place in our university and community and aim to promote racial healing and increase community trust in police. Eight simulations will be delivered over the course of the 2023 academic year that will form a training program that will be pilot tested at the UIUC Police Summer Training Institute in Summer 2023. Through our interdisciplinary partnership, we will develop a formalized tool kit that includes annotated simulations on systemic racism, police violence, and racial healing that can be used in trainings for police and for university cultural centers across the US.

Understanding Challenges and Strategies to Assist Foster Care Providers in Meeting the Needs of African-American Children Involved in the Child Welfare System – $75,000

Project Leaders: Robin LaSota (School of Social Work); Jennifer Manthei (University of Illinois-Springfield, Anthropology); Tiffani Saunders (Memorial Health Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion); Valarie Chavis (Culturally Fluent Families); Rosalyn Lindsay-Simmons (Primed for Life); Chequita Brown (College of Education)

Studies show that Black children do better when placed with Black foster parents, where they can develop a strong cultural identity and integration in the Black community, which are associated with better mental health resilience and social well being. However, approximately one fourth of foster care placements in Illinois are transracial. The goal of this qualitative research project is to understand parenting strategies and training needs for positive youth identity development and supports for navigating experiences of racism among foster and adoptive parents and their children, drawing from the lived experiences of Black birth parents, and White and Black foster parents, raising Black children in care. How can we prepare and support transracial foster families in addressing needs of Black children in care? What can we learn from Black foster and birth parents’ experiences to improve positive racial identity and community integration for Black children and youth in foster care? How can we adapt the “best practices” found in popular, academic, and professional literature and media to provide appropriate training and support? The project engages complementary strengths of UIUC and UIS researchers, Illinois family advocates and race equity leaders, child welfare leaders and practitioner s and training specialists to translate research into practice.

Learn more

Closing the Racial Disparity Gap in Juveniles Transferred to Adult Court – $74,984

Project Leaders: Doug Smith (School of Social Work); Ebonie Epinger (School of Social Work); Lisa Jacobs (School of Law, Loyola University); Robin Fretwell Wilson (College of Law)

This project will collect data from case files of all juveniles who were transferred to adult court from years 2019-2022.  Black youth are disproportionately transferred to adult court, which is known to have a negative impact on youth who lose the protections of the juvenile system.  This project investigates whether Black youth are disproportionately transferred when other factors are held constant such as number of prior charges, severity of offense, and age.  Furthermore, we investigate whether accomplice liability laws, which assume culpability of all youth present during an incident, are disproportionately affecting Black youth and represent a form of structural racism.  The data generated in this project will be novel and have high potential for policy changes that lead to more equitable outcomes in the juvenile justice system.

Empowering Youth Impacted by Violence in Champaign County to Promote Health Equity: A Photo-Voice Project – $74,285

Project Leaders: Liliane Windsor (School of Social Work); Jeffrey Ford (Retired Judge); Charles Burton (Don Moyers Boys and Girls Club)

Violent crime reports in Champaign County have risen by approximately 50% from 2019 to 2020. The increase is expected to be higher for 2021. Most of these have disproportionately impacted the Black community. This project will follow community based participatory (CBPR) principles to develop infrastructure to collaboratively define, explain, and address violence in Champaign County. In the project, emerging adults at risk for engaging in violence will participate in critical dialogues with a diverse team of peers, professionals, formerly incarcerated people who are committed to promoting community health, community members impacted by violence, and family members to merge their experiences with scientific knowledge and identify resources available at the community and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The project will include youth between ages 17 to 25 to: 1) implement a photo voice project to express youth’s perspectives through a photo exhibit; and 2) establish a sustainable youth collaborative board that will serve as a long term vehicle to elevate the voices of emerging adults at risk for engaging in violence and develop solutions to promote peaceful solutions to conflict and healthier communities.

Champaign County Guaranteed Income Project – $74,858

Project Leaders: Christopher Larrison (School of Social Work); Brent Robert (College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Department of Psychology); William Schneider (School of Social Work); Elsa Augustine (Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute, Center for Social and Behavioral Science)

Housing insecurity has reached historically high levels across the nation and disproportionately impacts low-income Black, Latinx, Asian, and mixed-race families.  Champaign County is not immune to this problem despite having a reasonably priced housing market and a higher-than-average rental vacancy rate.  During the past decade, traditional homeless services have not decreased the number of sheltered homeless children identified under the McKinney-Vento Act in Champaign County. This Call to Action project will design and implement the Champaign County Guaranteed Income Project (CCGIP), a micro-pilot of guaranteed basic income for families of school-age children experiencing homelessness in Champaign County. The goal of CCGIP is to design an effective, unconditional cash transfer program that decreases the number of families with school age children experiencing sheltered homelessness in Champaign County.

To achieve this, the CCGIP will first develop a profile of families with children identified as homeless by the McKinney-Vento Act in Champaign County; then design a guaranteed basic income (GBI) program based on the profile of these families and community input; and implement and evaluate the GBI program with ten families to pave the way for program expansion.

Enacting Collaborative Partnerships to Develop a Sustainable School-Based Mental Health Intervention to Counter Negative Effects of Racial and Violent Trauma on Black Youth in Champaign Unit 4 Schools – $25,000

Project Leaders: Jarrett Lewis, (College of Education, Department of Educational Psychology), James Harden, (Champaign Unit 4 School District), Amanda Gray, (Champaign Unit 4 School District), Sara Sanders, (Franklin STEAM Academy), M Lydia Khuri, (College of Education, Department of Educational Psychology), Lindsey Trout, (School of Social Work), Amy Cohen, (College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Department of Psychology), Joseph Cohen, (College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Department of Psychology), Emily Stone, (College of Education, Department of Public Education).

Contextualized mental health services for Black youth are particularly needed because of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial trauma, and increasing gun violence on their mental well-being and school engagement. This project will address mental health disparities affecting Black youth via a community-university collaboration by developing a model for implementation and evaluation of a trauma-focused, culturally informed school-based mental health intervention. The project has two central aims: (a) identify and amend practices that may reinforce structural racism and negatively impact Black students’ mental health and (b) implement a school-based mental health intervention to address the impact of racial and violent trauma on Black youth at a Champaign middle school, Franklin STEAM Academy. This project is an ongoing collaboration between Champaign Unit 4 School District administrators, Franklin STEAM Academy administrators and mental health practitioners, and the University of Illinois Clinical-Community Psychology, Counseling Psychology, and Social Work faculty to support and prioritize Black youth’s mental health in Champaign Unit 4 schools.

See FULL LIST of funded projects

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