Fostering Conversations and Research on Race: CASAA Awards Its First Round of Microgrants for Scholarship and Antiracist Pedagogy

By Daniel DiPrinzio | May 4, 2022
Logo for CASAA - The Center for Antiracist Scholarship, Advocacy, and Action with text - the global home for studies on race, racism, and societal justice

In efforts to advance scholarship on race, racism, and social justice in the past as well as the contemporary world, the directors of the Center for Antiracist Scholarship, Advocacy, and Action (CASAA) at Arcadia University unveiled a new initiative—the CASAA Microgrants Program—in March 2022. Part of the institution’s investment in antiracist studies, the program would provide small grant awards to support individual and collaborative research projects that expand our understanding of race and racism across the globe, consider obstacles to racial equity in modern society, and probe strategies for achieving racial justice. Dr. Doreen E. Loury, Founding Executive Director, and Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack, Associate Director, aimed to promote a diverse range of scholarship and to support the incredible research Arcadia faculty and staff are engaged in to combat racism, to bring about a more equitable world, and to envision pathways toward racial healing. 

For this first round of applications for the CASAA Microgrants Program, CASAA received a number of thoughtful proposals across the disciplines that addressed issues such as the COVID-19 vaccination experiences among pregnant Black populations at increased risk of infection and/or complication, U.S. asylum processing as a racializing practice affecting displaced migrants of the Global South, the roles of racism and slavery as represented in the Gettysburg ghost tour industry, and more. According to Dr. Varlack, “These projects are critical in advancing our understanding of the complicated national and global systems surrounding race, nationality, and notions of power while also providing a platform for defining mechanisms of change, advocating for minoritized and underserved populations, and reimagining industries that shape how we pass on historical memory.” 

Recognizing that racism manifests in different forms and that the ways in which Arcadia faculty and staff might work to understand and/or combat those systems would vary, proposals for the CASAA Microgrants Program could take the form of scholarship of discovery, artistic expression, application, and integration, following the Boyer model. “This first round of microgrants truly shows the breadth and genius of our Arcadia community as they seek to engage in the work of addressing race, racism, and social justice nationally and internationally,” says Dr. Loury. “These multifaceted proposals are just the beginning of the work that CASAA will be engaged in as we strive to support and to encourage the scholarship that faculty/staff produce. Congratulations to the six recipients of microgrants for the inaugural round of funding.” 

Air Pollution and Environmental Racism in Philadelphia: Prash Naidu, Assistant Professor in the Department of Historical and Political Studies
In his research, Dr. Prash Naidu examines the health impacts of human-caused, environmental change in Southeast Asia and North America, calling attention to “the political ecology of health and the struggles of environmental justice in diverse settings.” This particular project, supported in part by a CASAA microgrant, aims to explore the impact of air pollution and environmental racism on people of color in Philadelphia, as those who reside near industrial and commercial facilities continue to “face a disproportionate health burden…, with a two-fold increase in chronic respiratory diseases over the last decade,” the American Lung Association ranking the city in 2020 as the twelfth most polluted city in the United States. For this work, Dr. Naidu will collaborate with Black community organizations and neighborhoods such as Point Breeze. Since this project will require additional grant funding over time, he will use the CASAA microgrant to support engagement with community members “to design the air quality monitoring project,” to conduct research necessary for future grant proposals, and to design a new undergraduate course at Arcadia “that centers around community-based, anti-racist research.” 

COVID-19 Vaccination Experiences of Black Birthing PeopleComfort Z. Olorunsaiye, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health
According to Dr. Comfort Z. Olorunsaiye, a population health researcher interested in maternal and child health disparities, “Racially- and ethnically-minoritized populations in the U.S. face a disproportionately higher burden of COVID-19 infection and complications,” the risks of which are greater among Black pregnant women since “they have the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates among all racial and ethnic groups.” Using a critical ethnographic approach in this project, Dr. Olorunsaiye aims to describe their “COVID-19 vaccination experiences” in an effort to better “understand the facilitators of vaccination acceptance and ameliorable barriers” and “to inform tailored strategies for equitable vaccination coverage and protection of Black birthing people.” CASAA microgrant funds will enable Dr. Olorunsaiye to conduct interviews with individuals who received the vaccine before or during their pregnancy or after childbirth, the findings of which she intends to present and publish—an invaluable resource for community-based organizations and service providers that engage with the target population of this study. Students at the University will also benefit from this particular project, having opportunities to gain experience in both data collection and analysis.

Dangerous Animals and Private Crime: Discriminatory Ontologies of Migration in U.S. Asylum Law: Hilary Parsons Dick, Associate Professor, Department of Historical and Political Studies
In her current book project, Dangerous Animals and Private Crime: Discriminatory Ontologies of Migration in U.S. Asylum Law (under contract with Oxford University Press), Dr. Hilary Parsons Dick explores “race, racism, and racialization in the U.S. through analysis of immigration law and policy, with a focus on asylum processing.” Here she calls attention to the ways in which both U.S. citizenship and immigration law equate Americanness with whiteness, thus disadvantaging migrants of color from the Global South. In exploring this complex history, Dr. Dick extends her analysis to address how asylum processing system at the U.S.-Mexico border “affects not only people from Mexico and Central America, but also people from Haiti, Eritrea, and Somalia, among other countries.” This project builds upon work Dr. Dick shared on February, 17, 2022 at the University’s Steinbrucker Lecturer, organized by Dr. Jennifer Riggan, the Frank and Evelyn Steinbrucker Endowed Chair at Arcadia. Funding through the CASAA Microgrants Program will be used to secure necessary research materials in legal studies and travel to conferences such as the Bi-Annual Meeting of the International Language and Law Association.

JLE Academy: Hip-Hop Education in Action: Stephen Tyson, Jr., Adjunct Professor, First-Year Seminars Program and Educational Leadership Graduate Student
For Stephen Tyson, Jr., experiences as an after-school coordinator and summer camp counselor provided critical insight into “how creative outlets [and cultural expression] helped many of our students learn more effectively,” increasing their engagement inside and outside the classroom. Therefore, he believes, being very intentional in fostering those connections can transform the learning experience educators provide, especially for students from marginalized communities. This project will use CASAA microgrant funding to support the development, publication, and marketing of Prof. Tyson’s digital Hip-Hop Education curriculum for school districts, non-profit organizations, youth programs, and institutions of higher education as well as a campus workshop on Hip-Hop Education. With this curriculum, “Every lesson becomes an opportunity for [students] to showcase their talents, which impacts their self-esteem and ultimately their approach toward school and academics.” While this project aims to provide new modes for students to access content in areas such as history and science, the digital curriculum would also “help them learn more about the history of Hip-Hop culture and the various social justice movements that it was born from.”

Ghostly Images of Racism: Exploring Racism in Dark Tourism through the Lens of Ghost Criminology

  • Favian A. Guertin-Martin, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice
  • Kevin D. Revier, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice

Noting the recent “dismantling of pro-southern memorials and relics tak[ing] place in cities such as New Orleans, Baltimore, Richmond, and Charlottesville,” Dr. Favian Alejandro Guertin-Martin and Dr. Kevin D. Revier problematize “dark tourism, more specifically ghost tours of Civil War battlefields, [which] may be whitewashing American history in the retelling of ghost stories and folktales.” They aim to engage in research that will interrogate the question, “To what extent, if any, do ghost tours acknowledge the role of slavery and racism?” With the funding provided by this microgrant, Dr. Guertin-Martin and Dr. Revier will participate in a series of ghost tours in Gettysburg to “explore how Black history and the Civil War are explained and imagined in the ghost tour industry.” Together, they plan to present this research at the annual American Society of Criminology conference, to submit their work for publication, and to infuse their discoveries into a range of courses at Arcadia University such as Dark Dublin: Exploring Dark Tourism and Ghost Criminology, American Horror Story: Exploring America’s Violent Past, and Fear, Crime & Media.

Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism Training for NGOs

  • Warren Haffar, Director, International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program
  • Allyson McCreery, Associate Director, International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program
  • Rachel Kuria, International Peace and Conflict Resolution Graduate Student
  • Tyanna Taylor, International Peace and Conflict Resolution Graduate Student
  • Samuel Wragg III, International Peace and Conflict Resolution Graduate Student

Though non-profit, for-profit, and non-governmental organizations can offer invaluable services to displaced and marginalized communities throughout the world, they can still be impacted by implicit biases and incidents of racism, argue Rachel Kuria, Tyanna Taylor, and Samuel Wragg III. “A lack of intentional practice in anti-bias,” they argue, can “create a ripple effect through [such organizations] and beyond.” Recognizing this concern, they plan to develop and implement “an antiracist, antibias workshop for NGOs”—a two-part program that addresses “internal biases” and offers “analysis of how it impacts their everyday lives” in addition to reflection upon “how biases may be present in the work the organization does.” The project—supported by the directors of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Graduate Program at Arcadia, Dr. Warren Haffar and Prof. Allyson McCreery—will make use of the microgrant to fund anti-bias and anti-racism training for Kuria, Taylor, and Wragg and to cover expenses related to external consultations with professionals in the field. Ultimately, this project will expand on the “notion of simply avoiding harm” central to humanitarian work, encouraging workshop participants to also consider “proactive ways to analyze harm” and to embrace diversity and inclusion in all that they do. Funds for this microgrant were also provided by the Office of Access, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.