Ohio State backs research supporting racial justice

An initiative promoting the use of research to address the impact of racism and racial disparities in central Ohio and the nation is underway at The Ohio State University.

Ten team projects were awarded funding for the first round of Ohio State’s Seed Fund for Racial Justice. The program seeks to develop research approaches and creative ideas to help contribute to the elimination of racism and solve its underlying causes and consequences on campuses, in the community and across the United States.

The seed grant program was developed at the request of the Office of the President through a collaboration of leaders from the colleges of Education and Human Ecology and Social Work and the offices of Diversity and Inclusion, Outreach and Engagement, Academic Affairs and Research .

Grant recipient Ranthony A.C. Edmonds

Ranthony A.C. Edmonds

, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Mathematics, will research the history of Black mathematicians at Ohio State to explore access to STEM for minoritized groups.

“I started looking into the history of people who have come before me to see what had been going on,” she said. “I started learning about the first Black math PhD from Ohio State. His name was William McWorter, and he had a prolific research career. He actually ended up becoming an assistant professor at Ohio State.”

Edmonds said her early research found that nearly 200 mathematicians who identify as Black have earned degrees in mathematics at Ohio State. She said many have become productive researchers, authors, high school teachers, department chairs and university presidents – yet those achievements remain hidden.

The research will reveal this history. Narratives and histories collected will be used to provide historic and cultural understanding and STEM resources for teachers and their students. In addition, this work will be used to improve mentoring practices in the mathematical sciences in institutions across the country. Edmonds is the lead researcher on the project, partnering with Ohio History Connection/National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center and the National Math Alliance. The former will consult, help implement community and educational programming, and support adding the digital archive of Black mathematicians into its current digital repository, Ohio Memory.

“There’s a lot of research that could come from this. As a mathematician, I’m really interested in the math that these people were involved in,” Edmonds said. “Some of these early mathematicians found it difficult to find their place academically. So being able to highlight this work is really cool.”

Education is also at the heart of the project Noelle Arnold is leading. Arnold, associate dean for equity, diversity and global engagement in the College of Education and Human Ecology, will help develop anti-bias and anti-racism education and operational excellence content to improve professional development for educational leaders from kindergarten through high school.

Noelle Arnold

“Most school districts across the U.S. have school improvement plans. Rather than making anti-racism or equity a side project, we’re actually integrating it into the core systems that school districts already have,” she said.

The overarching goal of this project is to support partner school districts in building their organizational capacity to address institutional racism.

Each project is required to have multidisciplinary investigators and a community partner to ensure solutions have real-world applicability. Arnold worked with researchers from the Fisher College of Business and partnered with Columbus City Schools, Hilliard City Schools and the Fairfield County Educational Service Center.

She said the goal of the research is to develop a sustainable program that can help teachers and administrators track and improve their anti-bias and anti-racism work.

“We think the process begins with helping districts to create a plan and then providing ongoing support over a couple of years through coaching, modeling, refining and assessing what kind of impact that plan actually has for the district,” she said.

Both Arnold and Edmonds said the funding for racial justice research helps serve the founding mission of Ohio State as a land-grant university.

“I think it’s very important. We are actually doing what we say in our mission and vision, that we are engaged with the community,” Arnold said. “I appreciate that Ohio State is elevating research focused around engagement and community efforts.”

The following projects also received funding:

  • Professor Joy McCorriston in the Department of Anthropology leads an interdisciplinary team drawn from Ohio State, Atlanta University Center Consortium (which includes four historically Black colleges and universities) and Academic Search to develop an ethical, logistical and fiscally sound model for a partnered campus.
  • In partnership with First Nations Development Institute, a team lead by Stephen Gavazzi, professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology, seeks to address the forced exile of Native Americans during the establishment of the State of Ohio and the dispossession of tribal lands by the U.S. government to fund the establishment of Ohio State.
  • Big Walnut High School joins Wexner Center for the Arts Executive Director Johanna Burton and a team that will build upon pilot efforts in anti-racism and diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion to spark conversations and integrate anti-racist efforts into school curricula.
  • College of Nursing Assistant Professor Kathy Wright plans to collaborate with community partners on development of a virtually delivered stress- and emotion-management program supporting Black and African American middle-aged women with high blood pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • OSU Extension Educator Whitney Gherman and Michelle Kaiser, associate professor in the College of Social Work, will recruit high school students of color enrolled in African American Studies at Marion Harding High School to establish Marion Dreamkeepers. The group will investigate institutional, systemic racism and provide solutions to lasting, sustainable racial justice reform.
  • Jill Clark, associate professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, leads a transdisciplinary team of researchers from Ohio State and leaders from the City of Columbus’ Department of Neighborhoods seeking to address the qualities of inclusive, equitable and anti-racist local public participation environments.
  • A project led by Professor Jeffrey Cohen, Department of Anthropology, conducted in collaboration with the Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio will explore the mechanisms of structural vulnerability caused by the digital divide and detail community efforts to address the physical and social challenges created by COVID-19.
  • Kara Malone, assistant professor-clinical in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and community partner Restoring Our Own Through Transformation (ROOTT) will work to understand how structural bias, social inequities and racism undermine health and create challenges to achieving health equity, especially for Black women, infants and families in Franklin County.

The Office of Research has more information on the seed funding program’s awards on its website. A second round of funding will be announced in 2021.