Confronting and Combating Racism through Action-Based Research Projects

Earlier this month, U-M awarded more than $260,000 to six action-based research projects aimed at addressing challenges, such as systemic oppression, organizational exclusion, institutional discrimination, neglectful policy, and violence against the minds, bodies, and cultures of people of color. The awards are part of the inaugural “Confronting and Combating Racism” grants by the U-M Center for Social Solutions and Poverty Solutions. 

In this episode of Michigan Minds, Earl Lewis, the Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Public Policy, and director of the Center for Social Solutions, discusses how the grant program was created and highlights some of the projects that received awards. 

Lewis says that he and Luke Shaefer, the director of Poverty Solutions, saw what was happening across the nation after the killing of George Floyd and wanted to take action. 

“We were reminded of the deepened depth of continuing racial hostility, if not outright racism, in American life,” Lewis says. “We realized that as research enterprises, we have something to offer—and it’s not just the work that we could produce but the work that others could produce. So we decided that one of the best things we could do is serve as an engine to invite others to come and use their own brain power, thought power, and other resources to actually begin to tackle what is an interlaced and complex problem that faces all of humankind, particularly in the United States.”   

Lewis and Shaefer pooled their resources and went to others across the university to ask for contributions. They then invited colleagues and the U-M community to submit grant applications to not just study the problem, but to identify solutions to the problems and take action to try to improve society. Lewis says he was impressed with the variety of submissions, and wished that they could have funded more projects.  

The six projects comprise: 

  • “Virulent Hate: Anti-Asian Racism and Resistance During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” with principal investigator Melissa Borja, assistant professor of Asian/Pacific Islander American studies
  • “Democracy’s Denominator: How Citizenship-Based Redistricting Impacts Racial Minority Voters,” with principal investigator Jowei Chen, associate professor of political science
  • “The Study of Black Families’ Response to COVID-19 in the Support of Mathematics Learning,” with principal investigator Maisie Gholson, assistant professor of educational studies
  • “Using Police Body Camera Footage to Experimentally Assess the Effects of Routine Police Encounters for Community Trust and Community Health,” with principal investigator Nicholas Camp, assistant professor of organizational studies 
  • “Detroit River Story Lab,” with principal Investigator David Porter, professor of English and comparative literature 
  • “Beyond Rhetoric: Confronting and Combating Racism in Genesee County, Michigan,” with principal investigator Lisa Lapeyrouse, assistant professor of health education at UM-Flint.

“In looking at these grants and thinking about the response from our colleagues, we’re reminded that there are good ideas resident across this big complex institution called the University of Michigan. And sometimes, what you need to do is open a door and give people the freedom and the latitude to come out and say, ‘I have a solution. I have a way of actually working on something.’”

Read more about the grants 
Learn more about the Center for Social Solutions  

Download the audio transcript 


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