U-M awarded $10M in grants to address racial inequity

University of Michigan Central Campus

ANN ARBOR – The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative has awarded the University of Michigan two $5 million grants.

Led by professors Stephanie Fryberg and Earl Lewis, the grant money will be used over the next three years to fund projects that address racial inequity.

Fryberg is a professor of psychology and a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor. Lewis is the Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies and Public Policy. He is also the director of the Center for Social Solutions.

In total, the Mellon Foundation awarded more then $72 million in grant funding for 16 arts, humanities and social sciences projects across the U.S.

According to the foundation, the initiative was launched to support “visionary, unconventional, experimental and groundbreaking projects in order to address the long-existing fault lines of racism, inequality and injustice that tear at the fabric of democracy and civil society.”

“We’re proud to have these exceptional scholars on our campus,” Provost Susan Collins said in a statement. “These unprecedented awards recognize the outstanding humanities research that is happening at U-M, supported by a robust ecosystem, as well as the ingenuity of our scholars.

“We are especially pleased that these projects will amplify and be supported by our broader campuswide initiatives to enhance research and scholarship on anti-racism, equity and social justice.”

Fryberg plans to develop the Research for Indigenous Social Action and Equity Center at U-M, in collaboration with the the Native Organizers Alliance, IllumiNative and the Center for Native American Youth at Aspen Institute. The new center will collaborate with Brown, Harvard and Stanford universities and the University of California, Berkeley.

According to a news release, the center’s mission aims to:

  • Conduct multidisciplinary humanist research centering the voices of Indigenous peoples and experiences.
  • Build, support, and sustain a multi-university pipeline of Indigenous scholar-activists.
  • Put research into action by integrating artists and activists who use the center’s research to promote and share accurate, expansive and empowering narratives of Indigenous people.

“Our aims are bold,” Fryberg said in a statement. “We want to reimagine and re-create how mainstream U.S. culture engages with narratives about Indigenous people. We are working toward a society in which all individuals not only learn about Indigenous people but also learn from Indigenous people.”

Fryberg’s research indicates that Indigenous communities experience negative outcomes related to physical and mental health, education, employment, income and housing due to the perpetuation of settler colonialism by the current United States’ system of power.

“Indigenous people and Indigenous issues are largely omitted from contemporary narratives and public consciousness,” Fryberg said in a statement. “This pervasive invisibility creates a void that is easily filled with harmful myths and misconceptions that draw on negative stereotypes and fail to portray Indigenous peoples’ contemporary lived experiences or full humanity.”

RISE, the first center of its kind, will begin as an online initiative in order to reduce the amount of people on U-M’s campus during the pandemic.

A dedicated place on campus where Indigenous students and others can gather will eventually be established.

Lewis’ project, titled “Crafting Democratic Futures: Situating Colleges and Universities in Community-based Reparations Solutions,” will focus on building community-based and institutional alliances to explore reparations solutions for African American and Native American communities.

Lewis aims to focus the project’s initiatives and policies around entrepreneurship, workforce development, education, infrastructure and homeownership by exploring meaningful community engagement, municipal support and local histories.

“There has been a turn of events in the United States in the last four or five years,” Lewis, who also is a professor of history and Afroamerican and African studies in LSA, and professor of public policy in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy said in a statement.

“Instead of waiting for the federal government to actually come up with a solution, communities themselves have begun to mount efforts to look at community-based solutions. We’ve moved from what was for the last 30-plus years deemed to be only a federal solution, to something that is grassroots and local.”

For the pilot program, Lewis will collaborate with the following universities and organizations: Carnegie Mellon, Emory, Rutgers University-Newark, Spelman College, WQED Multimedia and the Council of Independent Colleges.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.