People and Community University

Recipients of inaugural racial justice grants announced

As part of President Julio Frenk’s ongoing commitment to combat institutionalized and systemic anti-Black racism on campus and in South Florida, the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, Multicultural Student Affairs, and the Butler Center for Service and Leadership launched the Racial Justice Pilot Grant Program.
The Shalala Student Center from across Lake Osceola. PHOTO: Mariano Copello/University of Miami
A view of the Shalala Student Center on the Coral Gables Campus. Photo: Mariano Copello/University of Miami

Last summer, in the wake of protests for social justice and the rise of incidents of anti-Black racism across the country, University of Miami President Julio Frenk outlined a 15-point plan to support racial equality, inclusion, and justice across the University of Miami and in the greater South Florida community.

As part of Frenk’s ongoing commitment to combat institutionalized anti-Black and systemic racism, the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, Multicultural Student Affairs, and the Butler Center for Service and Leadership partnered to launch the Racial Justice Pilot Grant Program, aimed to support student-led research initiatives, service projects, and programmatic activities that focus on race, racial justice, and racial equity at and beyond the Coral Gables Campus.

The pilot program, which received close to 40 project proposals, was met with overwhelming eagerness and excitement by students, faculty members, and community partners, according to Christopher Clarke, director of Multicultural Student Affairs.

“The idea of this Racial Justice Grant Program allowed the students, faculty, and staff’s creativity, passion, and dedication to be put to paper. We’re providing them the resources to not only impact the University of Miami community but the broader community as well,” Clarke said.  

The three offices hosted several workshops and information sessions to support students through the grant proposal process, coordinated by Monique McKenny, a fourth-year doctoral candidate and the offices’ graduate assistant. The final proposals were then evaluated and selected by faculty and staff members of the Standing Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

On Monday, Frenk announced the final 13 grant recipients in a letter to the University community, sharing that the projects have been awarded a total of more than $55,000. The teams, led by both undergraduate and graduate students, will collaborate with faculty, staff, and community partners to tackle a broad spectrum of issues in the Black community on campus and throughout South Florida, said Robin Bachin, assistant provost for civic and community engagement and Charlton W. Tebeau associate professor of history.

“It is so exciting to see the breadth of the projects our teams will be developing. The projects really reflect the diversity of our academic scholarship and teaching at the U, as well as the vibrancy of our local community,” she said.

Leveraging the expertise and assets of campus partners and community-based organizations, the grantees will help address complex issues surrounding disparities in health and education, strengthening the pipeline of qualified candidates aspiring to higher education, STEM careers, the arts; and addressing the persistent disparities and vulnerabilities that communities of color face with respect to the impacts of climate change.

“We hope that these initiatives will raise awareness about systemic racism as it is lived and felt in all our communities, both on our campus and beyond it,” Bachin said. “We also seek to foster stronger ties among our students and our local communities of color, so that together we can engage in knowledge co-creation and deliberate action that will help promote a more just and equitable Miami.” 

The following 13 projects were awarded grants.

  • Puzzle Pieces Mentoring for Diversity: A path forward to help future PTs find the right fit. Working with United Black Students to help address the gap between patients and providers, the overarching purpose of this program is to increase the visibility of the physical therapy profession for Black high school and undergraduate students and to provide mentorship to interested students to improve their chances for successful admission into, and completion of, PT school.
  • Public Health Survey on the Impacts of Intra-Urban Forced Displacement due to Climate Gentrification in Miam Working with People's Economic and Environmental Resiliency Group, Inc., this project will document the environmental and public health impacts connected to the forced displacement of low-wealth and Black and brown communities in Miami, thus arming communities with a strong evidence base to support the development of effective interventions.
  • I am Enough Project. Working with Urgent, Inc., the CRECER team will pursue a new venture, using a comic book format to help middle-school-age girls learn about structural racism, internalize strong ethnic-racial identity development, develop adaptive coping skills, and foster relationship management.
  • STEAM-D. Working with the National Society of Black Engineers, this project will help Black students in high school gain a better understanding of skills necessary to go into a variety of S.T.E.A.M. disciplines, providing the necessary confidence, skill set, and networking abilities through mentorship, tailored skill resources, and workshops.
  • Frost Black American Music Exchange. Working with the Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival, this project aims to realize an exchange of both musical and cultural information between the Frost School of Music’s Studio Music and Jazz Department and jazz musicians from South Florida’s Black community—providing opportunities for a residency and concert by community leaders at the Frost School, followed by Frost student involvement at the festival.
  • Defeat the Heat: Mapping extreme heat exposure in Miami’s Black neighborhoods. Working with Catalyst Miami, this project will recruit “citizen scientists,” or residents, who will passively use sensors to monitor temperature and humidity inside their homes and in key public spaces, allowing us to explore what heat exposure looks like in Miami’s Black neighborhoods and providing insight into best options for key adaptation strategies such as weatherization, energy assistance, urban greening, and health interventions to make strides in racial justice as well as climate justice.
  • The Role of CBOs in Mitigating COVID-19 Educational Disparities During Remote Learning for Black Middle School Students. In collaboration with Breakthrough Miami, a community-based organization that serves middle and high school students in Miami Dade County, the research team will engage with economically disadvantaged gifted Black middle school students to investigate and advance the role of community-based organizations in the mitigation of COVID-19-related educational disparities.
  • Black American Voices in Music: Challenging Racial Bias at the Frost School of Music. Working with the Department of Music Education, this project will include two main components that will run parallel to one another: a qualitative research study to assess beliefs and attitudes about racial bias and inequalities at the Frost School and a series of eight webinars on the theme of racial bias and equity in music.
  • Black Male Student Athlete Engagement & Empowerment. Working with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, this program aims to provide additional support and encouragement to Black male student-athletes in areas such as financial literacy, interpersonal communication, and life skills, which include entrepreneurship, dreaming beyond sport, professional emails, letter writing, resume development, money management, social media networking, and pre/post-game press conference interviews.
  • EmpowerU: A Pipeline Towards Greater Representation in STEM. UM’s Shark Research and Conservation Program is partnering with Breakthrough Miami to launch EmpowerU, a new program designed to provide experiential learning opportunities in marine science and research to students of color in South Florida.
  • Addressing Racial Injustice in STEM towards Coastal Resilience. Working with Booker T. Washington High School, the objective of the proposed program is to increase Black representation in STEM fields by providing opportunities for motivated black high school students to participate in research and mitigation projects on coastal resilience.
  • Student Career Day. The project is an event for Black foster care youth who are part of the First Star Academy at the University of Miami. It will provide a cohort of 50 students from the academy with a five-hour event including a college application workshop, Black student life exploration presented by student organization leaders, and a career fair with representation in their specific desired fields of study and professions.
  • African American Coalition of Excellence. Working with the Woodrow Wilson Marshall Association, this initiative will foster mentorship and an overall sense of community between minority faculty, staff, and students at the university, including skill-building workshops, shadowing opportunities, roundtable discussions, and one-on-one interactions that will positively impact their level of readiness in their field—so that they enter the workforce with the confidence and skills needed to succeed.

Moving forward, Renee Dickens-Callan, executive director for student life and co-chair of the Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, shared that the implementation of the Racial Justice Grant program serves as a mutually beneficial, hands-on learning experience for students and the community. She hopes these projects act as a catalyst to these students’ ambition to create substantive change on social justice issues.

“My hope for the projects is that our students and the communities that they serve feel empowered,” Callan said. “I hope our University continues to foster sustained, meaningful, and cooperative relationships with the greater Miami community, and that each project brings about innovative ideas that inspire others to contribute in whatever way they can to making a difference.”

For more information on Frenk’s 15-point plan and the University of Miami’s pursuit of racial justice, visit