Funded Projects 2024-2025

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 Chancellor’s Call to Action Research Program provides support for academic research and the expansion of community-based knowledge that advances the understanding of systemic racism and generationally embedded racial disparity.

Research Focus Areas 

For 2024, the research program will focus on areas that span domestic, international, and transnational spaces.

  • Systemic interventions to improve educational outcomes and increase college readiness.
  • Research that tackles the complex drivers of health disparities.
  • The interrogation of systems of disparity, discrimination, and disenfranchisement.
  • Transnational justice (i.e., achieving justice in issues that bridge local, national, and global communities).
  • Systemic bias as it affects LGBTQIA+ people and communities.

This year we were especially interested in projects that support the vision of the university’s Campus/Community Compact to Accelerate Social Justice and that partner with community organizations to solve and/or understand historical and current social injustices as they intersect with race.

Community-Based Innovation

Activating a Peer-to-Peer Train the Trainers Network for Digital Equity Network in East Central Illinois: Advancing Racial Justice in Non-Profit Digital Navigation Programs$100,000

Project Leaders: Anita Chan, School of Information Sciences; Tracy Smith, Technology Services; Paul Hixson, Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband Not-for-Profit; Julian Chin, School of Information Sciences

The “Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Train-the-Trainers for Broadband Equity” Digital Navigators Program is a collaborative initiative jointly led by the Community Data Clinic at UIUC and the Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) non-profit to address persistent issues of Broadband and Digital Inequity in East Central Illinois (EC-IL), particularly affecting historically marginalized and infrastructurally underserved populations. Leveraging existing partnerships with 5 community organizations – the Housing Authority of Champaign County, Cunningham Township, Project Success of Vermilion County, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and FirstFollowers, this project aims to establish a Digital Navigators Network and seed a new EC-IL Broadband Equity Community Hub in Champaign Park District’s multi-purpose Martens Center. Our partnership network will support the development of a local Digital Navigators Program, training 36 new community-facing Digital Navigators, equipping them with new or refurbished laptops, and leveraging resources developed in 2 years of prior work around broadband equity education and programming with this network. This project’s overarching goals will enhance affordable broadband adoption, empower community members with essential digital skills, and enhance access to community technology centers. By bringing together expertise from diverse organizations, the initiative seeks to bridge the digital divide and create opportunities for improved digital connectivity and inclusivity in EC-IL. This project was developed in alignment with and prior funding from the Illinois Office of Broadband’s Digital Equity + Inclusion Programming ( 

Development of SPICE-Healthcare: Supporting Personalized and Inclusive Cuisines in Environments for Healthcare$68,210

Project Leader: Minakshi Raj, College of Applied Health Sciences, Kinesiology and Community Health; Lisa Gatzke, NCSA; Laura Edwards, ClarkLindsey Village; Ian Brooks, School of Information Sciences, Center for Health Informatics; Naiman Khan, College of Applied Health Sciences, Kinesiology and Community Health; Margarita Teran-Garcia, Illinois Extension, Integrated Health Disparities; Visual Analytics Team, NCSA

Our aging population is increasingly multicultural and diverse, and their need for institutional long-term care is expected to increase in the coming years. However, the dietary norms, traditions, and preferences of culturally diverse older adults are often excluded in long-term care facilities. This exclusion can exacerbate disparities in access to high quality, culturally and medically tailored institutional care for diverse older adults. To address this social injustice, our proposed work will build the foundation for a web-based platform to Support Personalized and Inclusive Cuisines in Environments for Healthcare (SPICE-Healthcare). SPICE-Healthcare will enable clinicians to conduct and provide culturally and medically tailored nutrition assessments and care plans to diverse older adults. Our interdisciplinary team includes experts in health administration, caregiving, personalized nutrition and dietetics, health disparities, health informatics, information design, software engineering, and visual analytics. We will work together with our community partner, ClarkLindsey Village, to build, refine, and test a prototype of SPICE-Healthcare. We will solicit the experiences and insights of culturally diverse long-term care personnel, clinicians, older adults, and their family caregivers through a co-design process to ensure the development of a comprehensive and accessible platform that promotes health equity in long-term care settings.

Community Catalysts: Empowering Rantoul’s Youth and Parents through a Community-Centered Approach to Educational Transformation$99,998

Project Leader: Christina Krist, College of Education, Curriculum & Instruction; Samuel Hall, NIA Inc.; Kevin Hall, College of Education, Curriculum & Instruction

This Community-Based Innovation project is a collaboration between UIUC’s College of Education and Nia Inc., a nonprofit organization located in Rantoul, IL. The focus of the project is on improving educational and socioeconomic outcomes for minoritized youth and adults in the community. The project aims to enrich Nia’s existing Parent Mentor initiative and summer STEAM activities by integrating participatory action research (PAR) into programs. 

Working with current Parent Mentor and STEAM program facilitators, we will develop customized PAR-based programming throughout the academic year. PAR involves engaging parent mentors and youth as action researchers to identify and address critical issues in their schools and community. 

The goal is to support the joint development of cultural identity and transformative agency, empowering participants to have a meaningful impact in their schools and communities. The project will also partner with university courses for middle grades teacher education students to support pre-service teachers’ development as culturally responsive educators and leaders. 

Ultimately, the project seeks to examine the mechanisms and outcomes of these programs in order to develop a research-based model for interventions that utilize a community-centered approach to fostering educational success and community thriving. 

Impact of School Closings$100,000 

Project Leaders: Asif Wilson, College of Education, Curriculum and Instruction; Irene Robinson, Women and Mothers of Multiple Colors; Tricey Robinson, Women and Mothers of Multiple Colors; Parrish Brown, Good Lookin Out; Joshua Jackson, 720 Films; Cecily Relucio, Umuwi Ethnic Studies; Lilly Cruz, El Griot and Areito Project; David Stovall, University of Illinois Chicago, Black Studies/Criminology, Law, and Justice; Eve Ewing, Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity; Joshua Radinsky, College of Education, Curriculum and Instruction; Nicole Nguyen, University of Illinois Chicago, Criminology, Law, and Justice; Kayce Bayer, Good Scribble Studio; Stephanie Posey, School of Information Sciences; Khalila Lomax, College of Education, Curriculum and Instruction

This project, the Impact of School Closings, will explore the impact of 20 years of school closure, and school privatization, within Black communities in Chicago. In doing so, the project aims to retell the stories of school closures, resistance to those closures, and contemporary impacts on the communities hit hardest, using participatory research methods that position those impacted by these events as researchers and experts on school closures.   

Black parents, Black students, Black teachers, and Black community members impacted by school closures will receive training in qualitative research methods, while also drawing on and sharing their own ways of story-telling and knowledge exchange. Together, they will collect visual, oral, and written testimonies from other Black parents, Black students, Black teachers, and Black community members impacted by school closures.  

Following the collection of these stories, the research teams will develop publicly accessible artifacts (research briefs, visual media, audio media, and artifacts of their selection) to make these stories, and their analyses of them, accessible to other parents, students, teachers, and community members across Chicago, across the State of Illinois, and nationally. Activities and processes engaged through this project can create models for other US cities and communities to explore similar phenomena. 

Inclusive Champions for Change through Sport (IC-ChangeS): Developing a Social Justice Curriculum for High School Athletes in Champaign County$90,338

Project Leaders: Yannick Kluch, College of Applied Health Sciences, Recreation, Sport and Tourism; Mariela Fernandez, College of Applied Health Sciences, Recreation, Sport and Tourism; Solomon Siskind, College of Applied Health Sciences, Recreation, Sport and Tourism / UIUC Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA); Anna Baeth, Athlete Ally

Due to the powerful platform sport provides to drive positive societal change, athletes have increasingly utilized their voices for social justice impact. Whereas scholars have established a robust body of research on collegiate and professional athletes driving progressive structural change, such scholarship on high school athletes is virtually non-existent. To address this gap, the proposed project focuses on the development and pilot testing of a set of innovative community-engaged, experiential learning courses empowering undergraduate students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to teach high school athletes in Champaign County a curriculum focused on social justice leadership, titled IC-ChangeS (Inclusive Champions for Change through Sport). As part of the proposed project, high school athletes will complete four sessions focused on strengthening their understanding of systemic injustices and empowering them to use their platform as athletes in the community to drive social justice action. By partnering with Athlete Ally, a national nonprofit focused on promoting inclusion in and through sport, the proposed IC-ChangeS program aims to provide a crucial learning opportunity to strengthen high school athletes’ leadership skills, with a specific focus on social justice leadership. 

Systemic Institutional Change

Educating the Public about Injustice: Visitors’ Experiences to Holocaust Museums$99,964

Project Leaders: Joelle Soulard, College of Applied Health Sciences, Recreation, Sport and Tourism; Susan Frankenberg, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Anthropology; Kelley Szany, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center; Helene Turner, St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum

In this study, we explore how Holocaust museums educate the public about social injustice. Fueled by the rise in hate-related crimes, our project examines the impact of museum visits on visitors’ perceptions of social injustice and accountability. Collaborating with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, our research begins in the Midwest, a region profoundly marked by Holocaust survivors’ stories. The Midwest was once home to the largest community of Holocaust survivors in the United States, and these survivors played a vital role in creating these two museums. Then, our research team takes on a national approach by examining visitors’ experiences across the United States focusing on what they learn about social injustice after their visits. 

Our research seeks to uncover the profound impact that Holocaust museums have on visitors, examining how these institutions educate the public about the historical injustices and human rights violations of the Holocaust at both local and national levels. By investigating how local and regional contexts shape visitors’ experiences, we aim to unearth insights that can influence not only the way we remember history but also the way we tackle contemporary issues of hate and injustice. 

Catalyzing African Community Archives for Social Change$100,000

Project Leaders: Christopher Prom, University Library; Jessica Ballard-Lawrence, University Library; Janis Shearer, University Library; Juliet Erima, Moi University, Kenya; Tshepho Mosweu; University of Botswana; Florence Plockey, Accra Technical; University; William Kilbride, Digital Preservation Coalition

Catalyzing African Community Archives for Social Good will develop a reciprocal partnership between the University of Illinois, African archivists, and international knowledge management organizations. The partnership will foster the preservation of modern documentary materials, enabling Africans to tell their stories in their terms. Within a project governance model that centers African voices, the team will first co-develop training materials. It will then provide ‘Train the Trainers’ sessions in Ghana, Kenya, and Botswana, supporting community champions, indigenous knowledge holders, and African partners to digitally preserve and provide access to indigenous knowledge on topics like food production, ecosystem preservation, climate change mitigation, peace building, and reconciliation. 

Overall, the project seeks to develop shared communities of practice, positioning African partners to use their knowledge and records to improve social good, while decolonizing preservation resources previously developed in the global North. Throughout the project and at its conclusion, the team will take advantage of opportunities to amplify this work, such as seeking support from academic partners, private foundations and corporations, national governments, the International Council of Archives, and UNESCO. Long term, we will pursue projects that preserve records documenting the rising African continent and indigenous knowledge practices, to support sustainable development and democratic governance. 

Enhancing SPOTLITE to Improve Police Accountability in All U.S. Communities$100,000

Project Leader: Scott Althaus, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Political Science/Communication/Cline Center; Jay Jennings, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Cline Center; Ajay Singh, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Cline Center, Jennifer Robbennolt, College of Law; Joseph Gallo, Police Training Institute

This project will provide every community in the United States with an authoritative registry of uses of lethal force by law enforcement agency. Building on the work of Cline Center researchers on the initial version of SPOTLITE United States—the most authoritative and comprehensive registry of police uses of lethal force across the United States—this project will enhance national data for 2022 and 2023 by adding fields that identify the agency or agencies involved, the exact time and location of the event, and whether the incident included a death or injury. These details about police use of lethal force incidents are crucial to research aimed at creating powerful reforms (which require precise information about time and location of incidents, as well as whether an incident produced injuries and fatalities) while also providing communities with the most important information they need to hold their agencies accountable (which requires linking lethal force incidents with specific agencies rather than merely to a county as a whole).  Additionally, this project will develop a strategic communication plan to reach American communities who can use SPOTLITE data to hold their agencies accountable. 

Co-creating Knowledge for Antiracist and Transnational Solidarities through Radical Practices of Care, Hope, and Humane Urbanisms$99,560

Project Leaders:

Faranak Miraftab, College of Fine and Applied Arts; Ken Salo, College of Fine and Applied Arts; Helen Neville, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Magdalena Novoa, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Victor Font, College of Media; Teresa Barnes, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Atyeh Ashtari University of Memphis; Ricardo Nascimento UNILABE, Brazil; Efadul Huq, Smith College; Sarah Bassett, Arizona State University; Koni Benson, University of Western Cape; Greg Ruiters, University of Western Cape; Clarissa Freitas, Federal University of Ceara; Jose Ricardo Vargas de Faria, Federal University of Paraná; Giselle Tanaka, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Community Members: Rob Robinson, Partners for Dignity and Rights; Dawn Blackman, Randolph Street Community Garden; James Kilgore, First Followers; Ann Rasmus, University of YMCA. 

Our proposed project will co-create non-hierarchical learning spaces for our long-time collaborators, working across campus-community and social-spatial divides, to share social justice pedagogies and digital media methods as pathways for realizing antiracist, transnational solidarities we wish to forge across global color lines. We build on decades-long relations of trust that faculty members at UIUC have nurtured with academics and community groups in the US, South Africa, and Brazil to co-create knowledge about everyday practices of care and reciprocity that marginalized urban communities use to struggle beyond dominant divisive lines of race, gender, class, ethnicity and nationality. We refer to such ideals as humane urbanism, where life, not profit, is centered. Using traditional action research along with emerging digital humanities methodologies, we host digital stories online through a multilingual multimedia website and host activist-in-residence at UIUC campus to gather direct narratives and counter-narratives of urban activists, and uncover how concealed daily practices of radical care and reciprocity in marginalized communities nurture hope and activate imagination of an alternative just future. The goal of this project facilitating knowledge co-production among academics and community-based organizers is to learn possible paths and pragmatic strategies toward shared ideals of transnational justice.

Societal Impact

Developing and Evaluating a Practice-Based Teacher Education Unit to Advance Social Justice in Parent-Teacher Relationships$99,373

Project Leaders: Aixa Marchand, College of Education, Educational Psychology; Catherine Dornfeld Tissenbaum, College of Education, Curriculum & Instruction

The demographics of the current teaching workforce is incongruent with those of students enrolled in public schools. The incongruence between the students and families and their teachers has been described as a “demographic imperative” (Banks, 1991, p. 136) and “essential as educators work to close gaps in opportunity” (Milner, 2020, p. 148). This project aims to develop, pilot, and evaluate a series of practice-based teacher education lessons to be delivered to pre-service teachers that center the counterstories of Black families and offer the opportunity for practice and reflection on engagement practices before they enter their own classrooms and work to establish partnerships with their students’ families across difference. 

By incorporating practice-based education principles such as simulation, enactment, and reflection, we intend for future teachers to be aware of structural inequities that impact their students and families and to increase their commitment to and confidence in partnering with families of color via asset-based perspectives. This project directly addresses newly implemented Illinois State Board of Education Culturally Relevant Teaching and Learning Standards that require teacher training programs to provide opportunities for students to engage in self-reflection, partner and learn about students’ families, and connect curriculum to students’ lived experiences. 

Cultivating Green in the City: A Soil and Planting Framework for Urban Agriculture and Ecology in East St. Louis$99,915

Project Leaders: Kelley Lemon, College of Fine & Applied Arts, Landscape Architecture; Andrew Margenot, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Crop Sciences; Amy Funk, Jackie Joyner Kersee Food Agriculture and Nutrition Program; Scott Loeffler, Lansdowne UP; Kevin Green, Lansdowne UP

Urban farming and agriculture is gaining popularity as a solution to address food insecurity and enhance community relationships in disadvantaged U.S. neighborhoods. In declining cities, abandoned areas are repurposed for urban agriculture, discouraging illegal dumping and beautifying the community. However, the soil quality in these areas is often poor or contaminated with toxins from past industrial activities, posing challenges for food production. Traditional methods involve raised beds, soil replacement, and soil washing, but are expensive and don’t address localized contamination. 

The project proposes building a set of planting design guidelines around phytotechnology and phytoremediation techniques to stabilize contaminated soils with complex-rooted plants and possibly removing contaminants through plant uptake. By testing and identifying clean and contaminated areas, a new urban landscape typology can emerge, addressing health, safety, budget, ecology, and restoration. The Jackie Joyner Kersee Food Agriculture and Nutrition Program (JJKFAN) in the Lansdowne neighborhood in East St. Louis is identified for such a project, aiming to build out its agricultural footprint with a collection of passive solar greenhouses, and developing a landscape design that engages youth in the community.