People and Community University

Grant awardees address inequities, promote racial justice

A University of Miami School of Law team working with community partners in Coconut Grove to protect and advance voting rights is one of 11 awardees from the second round of racial justice grants.
Voting rights grant
Courtney Giebel is one of the students working with community partners to educate citizens and safeguard their voting rights.

Courtney Giebel grew up in a Chicago suburb where voters were historically consistent with their political choices. Yet once she relocated to Florida, the second-year law school student soon came to appreciate the nuances of voting in a swing state where elections can be decided by the slimmest of margins.

That awareness motivated Giebel to galvanize a student team from the Center for Ethics and Public Service at the University of Miami School of Law that together with community partners is working to educate citizens and safeguard their voting rights in the historically underserved neighborhoods of West Coconut Grove. Many of those areas have been recently impacted by redistricting.  

The “Voting Rights in Miami's Historic Coconut Grove Village West” project is one of 11 student-sponsored projects that were selected and are being supported financially in the second round of the Racial Justice Grant Program. It is one component of a broad University of Miami initiative, launched in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, which promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion across the institution and in the greater South Florida community.

Guerdiana Thelomar, a doctoral candidate in the School of Education and Human Development’s community well-being program, coordinates the grants initiative—from the selection to ensuring the funds are delivered and outcomes are reached.   

Thelomar explained that the projects, either a research proposal or service program, must address racial equity issues or advocacy, and that the selection committee also assesses for interdisciplinary focus and degree of engagement. Student teams need to include community partners and require a faculty advisor as well.

For this second round, 11 of the 14 applicants were funded in amounts ranging from $500-$5,000, according to the graduate assistant. Awardees were notified in June, and projects run through the academic year.

Giebel, who joined the U.S. Marine Corps in her first year in law school and will serve as a military judge following graduation, said her team’s effort was sparked by inconsistencies they observed in the redistricting last year that appeared to marginalize the historic Coconut Grove community.

Their focus is threefold in advance of upcoming elections: first, to make sure that everyone is registered to vote and that registrations are accurate and up to date; second, to understand the barriers that are preventing some citizens who are eligible to vote from exercising their right; and third, to provide transportation to the polls on election day or to early voting sites. The project includes a post-election component to assess for new issues identified by the residents. The team has partnered with Grace, Inc., the Civil Rights Collective, and the Coconut Grove Ministerial Alliance.

“From working with our partners, we learned that some voters were confused by the many issues and were not sure who they’re voting for, so we did a deep dive using a non-partisan format to develop a fact sheet on all the candidates,” she explained.

Ensuring that voting eligibility information is accurate in advance will prevent problems for citizens at the polls. “For some races, one or two votes in a single area can change an entire election, Giebel pointed out. “It’s important to make sure that everything is done correctly so that those that get elected were fairly elected and not because of any sort of barrier to vote.

The closest early voting site for residents in the area is Vizcaya Museum and Gardens—a considerable distance for many West Grove voters—so the group is exploring an option through Lyft and seeking another using private buses. The City of Miami has yet to name voting places, which poses another complication for many voters.

Giebel said she felt that the team was having a strong impact so far, but she identified a challenge they had not foreseen.

“Most of our connections are through the churches and most people who go to church are generally already registered,” she said. “Now we’re trying to target those who don’t go to church. Those are the ones that we’d like to reach, better understand, and help if possible.” 

Racial Justice Grant Awardees 2022–23 

  • Radical Reading Circle creates a co-facilitated group to read, discuss, and advance new ideas and possibilities gleaned from literature to better understand and address social justice concerns.
  • The 305 Give Back Drive funnels resources from larger institutions to local, underserved communities through a back-to-school drive for elementary schools in Miami-Dade County in an effort to create opportunities for education and advocacy.
  • Puzzle Pieces Mentoring for Diversity: A Path Forward to Help Future PTs Find the Right Fit! provides a series of experiences to optimize professional development, provide networking opportunities, and enhance the resumes/applications for Black undergraduate students seeking to enter the physical therapy profession.
  • Exposing the Expansive and Racially Disproportionate Reach of Mass Incarceration in Miami-Dade County teams University students with the organization Beyond The Bars to conduct a canvassing pilot that raises awareness of mass incarceration in Miami-Dade County.
  • STEAM-D Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Diaspora is a mentorship program to help Black students in high school gain a better understanding of the skills necessary to go into a variety of S.T.E.A.M. disciplines.
  • Gender-Based Violence, Racial Justice, and Policing in Miami develops and conducts a survey of community organizations to assess perceptions of police interactions with victims of gender-based violence and ultimately provides recommendations to police and the county Domestic Violence Oversight Board.
  • YPAR at Power U: Young People Building Power and Organization to Win! is a youth participatory action research project that supports Power U's mission to develop the leadership of Black and Brown working-class high school students.
  • Multicultural Library and Supporting Activities is a project that creates a picture book library collection and art exhibit—together with the University’s Linda Ray Intervention Center—that allows students to see clearer reflections of themselves in the books that are read to them.
  • Prison Visits for Racial Justice aims to dismantle biases and stigmas that students may hold toward incarcerated people and/or people impacted by the criminal justice system.
  • Shadow a UM Student Day provides a shadowing event for a cohort of students from the University’s First Star Academy with the goal of allowing them to see the college space physically and envision themselves in it as a person of color.