KU faculty, community partners to advance racial equity through newly funded projects


LAWRENCE – Addressing disparities in the child welfare system, prioritizing racial equity in flood management and reclaiming the stories of displaced Black and Latinx communities are among the goals of 10 projects selected for the inaugural round of KU Racial Equity Research, Scholarship & Creative Activity Awards.

Led by members of the University of Kansas research and creative community, the two-year projects aim to foster progress toward a state where race no longer determines one’s ability to thrive because systemic barriers to quality housing, education, employment, health care, public safety and other needs have been removed. 

“We are thrilled to support these innovative, important projects. Each has the potential to create immediate change and sustainable growth toward racial equity on our campus, in the communities we serve and beyond,” said Simon Atkinson, vice chancellor for research. “I am especially excited about the range of expertise that will be applied to this profound challenge — by musicians, playwrights, visual artists, humanists and scientists — and the deep engagement with community partners who will generously share their experiences and ideas to help increase understanding and devise solutions.” 

The winning project teams — representing 12 departments across the university — were chosen through a peer-reviewed competition co-sponsored by the Office of Research and the Hall Center for the Humanities. They will receive up to $20,000 to support their work.  

“As a major research university committed to diversity, inclusion and racial equity, KU must advance that commitment, in part, through its research mission,” said Richard Godbeer, director of the Hall Center. “We believe in the power of research, scholarship and creative activity to bring about change. Our objective is to foster progress toward racial equity through a combination of research, dialogue and action.” 

Recipients will come together in 2022 for a series of workshops hosted by the Hall Center to exchange ideas and provide feedback on each other’s projects as they progress. 

Learn more about the projects: 

Wyandotte County Rising 

Becci Akin, associate professor of social welfare  
Kaela Byers, associate research professor of social welfare 

Wyandotte County Rising will advance an initiative of the School of Social Welfare and its federal project, Kansas Strong for Children & Families, intended to strengthen the child welfare system through efforts such as centering the lived experiences of Black families and community leaders to better understand the systemic contributors leading to disproportionate family separation and poorer outcomes for Black children and families. The project will build upon this work by developing and supporting a coalition of Black community leaders in Wyandotte County pursuing progress toward racial equity in the child welfare system. Leveraging this coalition’s expertise to co-interpret local data, the project will provide the infrastructure and support to local community experts to promote development of family-centered and community-driven recommendations, ensuring the child welfare system is held accountable to community needs and priorities. 

Promoting Cervical Health for Latina Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: A Community Engagement Project to Culturally Adapt a Trauma-Informed Approach 

Meredith Bagwell-Gray, assistant professor of social welfare  

Members of the U.S. Latinx community experience health disparities in cervical cancer diagnoses and related deaths, and domestic violence increases the risk for cervical cancer. Bagwell-Gray will engage Spanish-speaking Latinx domestic violence survivors, Spanish-speaking survivor advocates and members of the Latinx community in a cultural adaptation of a promising new intervention designed to increase sexual health empowerment and promote cervical health prevention behaviors in survivors of domestic violence in Kansas and Missouri. The project is designed to address an immediate community need while progressing the broader aim of reducing cervical health disparities in the Latinx population. 

Invisibility and Rage: Asian Americans, Racial Trauma and Mental Health 

Kelly Chong, professor & chair of sociology  

Chong will create a first-of-its-kind documentary film that explores the intertwined issues of anti-Asian racism and mental health. Utilizing community partnerships, the film will be crafted around interviews of Asian American and Pacific Islander community members and of experts on AAPI mental health. It will also draw on the participation of creative artists to explore the emotional depth and range of AAPI race-based traumas. The film seeks to educate the public about a crucial but neglected dimension of the AAPI experience and influence policy-making regarding anti-racism efforts and AAPI mental health at the local and national levels. 

Promoting Retention for Underrepresented Engineering Graduate Students Through Inclusive Teaching and Research Lab Practices  

Prajna Dhar, professor of chemical & petroleum engineering

Meagan Patterson, professor of educational psychology 

Dhar and Patterson will develop a pilot program to foster inclusive research and teaching practices within KU’s chemical and petroleum engineering graduate program. The researchers report that retention programs at the graduate level are limited and have focused primarily on supports outside of the classroom. In addition to incorporating inclusive teaching practices in select core graduate courses and offering workshops for graduate teaching assistants, instructors and lab investigators, the program will collect data from students about barriers and supports that will inform the development of a proposal to the National Science Foundation’s Innovations in Graduate Education program.  

Evaluating the Racial Equity of Flooding Hazards in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area 

Admin Husic, assistant professor of civil, environmental & architectural engineering

Elaina Sutley, associate professor of civil, environmental & architectural engineering and associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging 

Flooding is one of the most costly natural disasters around the globe, and recent research has shown discrepancies in which communities bear the costs of flooding. Collaborating with three Kansas City metropolitan area counties, Husic and Sutley will investigate the relationship between flooding extent and racial community makeup — considering social vulnerability as a factor alongside hazard risk in flood management. Their objectives are to understand infrastructure planning for flood defenses, how such planning was influenced by racial makeup of communities and a way forward to prioritize racial equity in flood management.  
A Multicultural Perspective to a Museum Exhibit: The Panorama at the Kansas Museum of Natural History 

Jorge Soberón, University Distinguished Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and director, Biodiversity Institute 

Soberón will collaborate with colleagues at the Biodiversity Institute, partners at Haskell Indian Nations University (among other First Nations organizations), the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research and the Spencer Museum of Art to create a multicultural perspective of the acclaimed Panorama exhibit at the KU Natural History Museum. The team will update the database of species represented in the exhibit to include the Native American names and usage for each species; incorporate narratives, stories and Native American perspectives on selected species; and provide texts and interactive media that transform the Panorama’s current narrowly Western perspective into a multicultural one as a first step toward a fully diversified museum.  


Akiko Takeyama, associate professor of women, gender & sexuality studies 

Yi-Yang Chen, assistant professor of piano of music 

“Prelude,” an interdisciplinary and community-based project, examines Asian experiences in the Midwest. At a May 2022 symposium celebrating the contributions of female Asian composers, internationally renowned composer Chen Yi will share her personal experience living in the Midwest by way of a written narrative, keynote address and commissioned solo piano piece. The composition will be premiered by Yi-Yang Chen, assistant professor of piano, and professionally recorded. It will serve as a catalyst for a life history project further exploring Asian experiences in the Midwest. Facilitated by a research team under the direction of Takeyama, the life histories will be archived digitally and documented in a scholarly article.  

"The Search for Anno Domini MMXXI-I-VI"

Peter Ukpokodu, professor of African & African-American studies 

Ukpokodu will write and produce “The Search for Anno Domini MMXXI-I-VI,” a play that explores racial inequity in a format designed to inspire audience discussion and solution-seeking. The play places different races on the same platform, face-to-face, to engage in dialogue. Serious topics will be laced with humor and presented in the Brechtian style of epic theatre. This approach creates a slight distance between the audience and unfolding events so they can see the strangeness of certain actions and discuss meanings and message. As in the epic theatre tradition, audiences will be required to stay at the end of the presentation to engage in conversation about racial equity issues and seek solutions in partnership with the playwright, director, actors and fellow viewers.  

Documenting the Work of Kansas Architect Charles McAfee  

Amy Van de Riet, lecturer in architecture 

Van de Riet will lead a project to document the work of Charles McAfee, a talented Black architect who practiced in Wichita beginning in 1963. His work won many awards, but he could never overcome the racial barriers obstructing the expansion of his work in the ’60s and ’70s. Today, his buildings are in danger of demolition. The project will record all of McAfee’s remaining buildings/structures in the Kansas Historic Resource Inventory with proper recognition of him as the architect; create measured drawings, history and photos to fully document one of those buildings; and ensure this documentation is housed in the Library of Congress with similar building documentation.  

Reclaiming Home 

Maria Velasco, professor of visual art 

In the 1950s and ’60s, more than 3,000 Topekans were forced to leave their homes and businesses in The Bottoms district in downtown to make way for new real estate development as part of the Urban Renewal Project. The area, covering more than 20 blocks, was the heart of a thriving Black business district and robust Latinx community. Reclaiming Home aims to reclaim the stories of these displaced communities through the use of oral histories, community mapping and an exhibit that recreates the neighborhood through art — all at a critical time when the city is planning another round of urban renovation in the same area. 

Tue, 11/30/2021


Mindie Paget

Media Contacts

Mindie Paget

Office of Research