U-M awards more than $260,000 for research on confronting, combating racism

Now that Genesee County has declared racism a public health crisis, what role can residents play in guiding the county’s efforts to eliminate racist policies and practices?

That’s one of the research questions University of Michigan faculty will seek to answer with support from new grant funding awarded by the Center for Social Solutions and Poverty Solutions at U-M. Other research topics include how Asian Americans’ experiences of racism have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, how redrawing legislative districts to account only for eligible citizen voters would impact minority voting power, and more.

"Undertaking this project is a natural progression of my work to investigate and dismantle social and structural systems that rob individuals and communities of color of an equal opportunity to live long, healthy lives.”

Lapeyrouse noted the strong reluctance in American society to acknowledge the existence of racism and its generationally destructive impact on the lives and livelihood of people of color. She said academic research can rigorously investigate and document systems of oppression and point to best practices that can disrupt and dismantle those systems.

Borja, who is Asian American, said her research project was motivated by her personal experiences hearing about the harassment, discrimination and racism her Asian American friends experienced during the pandemic as well as her professional experience studying the organizing efforts of Asian Americans in U.S. history.

"I’ve always believed that in order to change our world, we first need to understand our world. If we want to address the problem of racism, we need to know how it is enacted, by whom and against whom,” she said. "We need to know the circumstances that allow racism to become entrenched, as well as the diverse and impactful ways that communities have successfully resisted racism.

"On the matter of the surge of anti-Asian hate incidents during COVID-19, research is particularly important. Without good data and analysis, elected officials and community organizations cannot understand the problem or even see the problem in the first place. Moreover, without good data and analysis, Asian Americans and their allies do not have the necessary tools to organize and advocate for effective interventions.”

Gholson said her research project was inspired by conversations with her fellow Black scholars in math education, who shared examples of Black parents innovating to support their children’s learning, even as they saw education systems perpetuating existing inequities and injustices in their response to the pandemic.

"We wanted to understand this phenomenon and debunk an anti-Black narrative that asserts Black children are somehow at greater risk by being at home with their loved ones and Black families are unable, unwilling or uncaring about their children’s educational futures,” Gholson said. "Such a narrative is not supported by the historical facts of Black communities.

"We are seeking to use our privileged roles as academic researchers to document Black families’ response, with particular attention to the everyday resistance that is needed during a pandemic and within continued racial struggle to support Black children in thriving in remote school environments and mathematics, specifically. Confronting and combating racism is at the core of Black families’ daily lives, and our study hopes to shine a light on our communities during the pandemic to mark another moment in Black educational history.”

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