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Ohio State faculty, students share racial justice work at symposium

Seed Fund supports university, community collaboration

During the Seed Fund for Racial Justice Symposium, Ohio State University faculty, staff and students discussed work they have collaborated on with community partners to bring about positive social change. The event was held Oct. 12 at the Fawcett Center.

The symposium was the culmination of efforts that began when the university established the Seed Fund for Racial Justice in 2020, said Ryan Schmiesing, senior vice provost for external engagement in the Office of Academic Affairs.

“The fund was designed to support projects that address the historic and contemporary effects of racism and racial disparities found in all Ryan Schmiesingaspects of American society,” Schmiesing said. Grant recipients embarked on “innovative, untested and exploratory research approaches and creative ideas that contribute to the elimination of racism and solve its underlying causes and consequences in our campuses, in our community and across the nation.”

In welcoming attendees to the symposium, President Kristina M. Johnson said the Seed Fund for Racial Justice is part of an array of Ohio State programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion. One of those programs, she said, is the RAISE initiative (Race, Inclusion and Social Equity), which includes 47 new tenure-track positions, with faculty expected to begin joining the university in autumn 2023.

“These newly approved positions are part of seven cross-disciplinary, community-engaged proposals to enhance Ohio State’s world-class research program,” Johnson said. “In addition to that representation in our classrooms and lecture halls and labs, we are creating spaces that allow our community members to connect with their heritage and develop a sense of belonging.”

The symposium included a panel discussion on advancing equity in K-12 education. Dionne Custer Edwards, the Wexner Center for the Arts’ director of learning and public practice, spoke about the center’s project to implement arts-based, anti-racist initiatives in Ohio high schools. The Wexner Center received a $50,000 grant from the Seed Fund and partnered with Big Walnut High School in Sunbury.

The project has incorporated self-care practices for educators, students and facilitators involved in the project to maintain their well-being and sustain the work, Custer Edwards said.

“The arts are uniquely situated and equipped to do this work,” she said. “We’re not afraid of feelings in the arts, there’s a lot of emotions in the arts and we deal with materials. We have a multisensory, multidisciplinary practice that we can incorporate so that we might be in touch with our senses, so that we might take care of ourselves more holistically.”   

Another panel featured a discussion on programs that bring together university faculty and staff with community organizations to address issues that affect central Ohio.

Cecelia Mengo, associate professor in the College of Social Work, said the college’s $49,664 grant assists immigrant women in Columbus who experience domestic violence. The college has partnered with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, the Center of Partner-Inflicted Brain Injury, Refugee Women in Action and community activists Noah Bagirinka and Rachel Ramirez.

“A lot of women are not able to really navigate the service system here in Columbus,” Mengo said. “There are so many services that they need – food, counseling, housing, financial assistance. Just having that person to work with them and hand-hold them and support them as they access these services is such a huge need.”  

The symposium also featured a series of “Lightning Talks” in which faculty and staff provided overviews of their ongoing work that received Seed Fund grants.

Wendy SmoothWendy Smooth, senior vice provost for inclusive excellence, spoke about a nonpartisan effort, which received a $49,950 grant, to increase the number of Black women who hold elected office in Ohio.

“Ohio State’s decision to seed new research dollars to answer the call of the moment is in keeping with our mission as a land-grant institution, which calls us to make sense of the world in which we are living, using the tools of the academy in service to the citizens of Ohio,” Smooth said. 

The Seed Fund for Racial Justice is just one of a host of Ohio State initiatives that are designed to foster an inclusive environment on campus and the greater community, said Melissa Gilliam, executive president and provost.  

“These activities form a scaffold so that we can ensure what you have begun will continue,” Gilliam told attendees. “And this will enable us, along with the community members that you have partnered with, to ensure the campus, the community and eventually the nation will become more diverse, more inclusive and more just.”

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