UM’s Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge Funds Three Miami Law Projects

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The University of Miami Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge Social Equity Challenge has recognized Miami Law’s social justice projects with grant funding. Projects will focus on economic and social disparities in Miami’s low-income neighborhoods, antiracism and climate change, and mentoring under-represented high school and college students interested in science.

The Community Equity Lab, housed at Miami Law's Center for Ethics & Public Service, has consistently aimed to address the significant economic and social disparities affecting low-income, minority communities in Miami Dade County, including West Grove, Perrine, Homestead, Richmond Heights, and Overtown. These and similarly comprised neighborhoods share certain common challenges and struggles with physical health but also mental health and general well-being stemming from financial, housing, educational, and safety stressors. The coronavirus pandemic brought to the forefront these glaring health disparities.

Their project, “COVID-19: Evaluating Fault Lines in the Health of Our Communities and Developing Community-Centered Solutions,” researches the human and environmental health conditions in low-income, underserved communities, recognizing that a comprehensive understanding of the interplay among these stressors and health outcomes often remains elusive. Because community partners have vocalized a need for better access to health data to make informed decisions, the project will facilitate public access to health-disparity data through community outreach and education. Using both available data and newly collected data from the project, the team will investigate public and private health care service delivery and resource allocation practices. Based upon their findings, the team will work closely with stakeholder partners to assist their communities in law and policy reform campaigns at local, state, and federal levels.

The project team of Miami Law’s Anthony Alfieri; Lauren Madigan, senior program manager for CEPS and third year Dr. Timothy Loftus, the CEPS Community Equity Lab William M. Hoeveler fellow, will be joined by Dr. Shirin Shafazand of the University of Miami School of Public Health; Richter Library’s Abraham Parrish; and Alejandro Mantero, a biostatistician with the Department of Public Health Sciences, to facilitate public access to health-disparity data through community outreach and education. Using both available data and newly collected data from the project, the team will investigate public and private health care service delivery and resource allocation practices. Based upon their findings, the team will work closely with stakeholder partners to assist their communities in law and policy reform campaigns at local, state, and federal levels.

“U-LINK’s support for Miami Law’s Community Equity Lab, and the Center for Ethics & Public Service more generally, highlights the importance of university-wide, interdisciplinary work at the intersection of law, public health, and race and poverty,” said Alfieri, “and likewise, the importance of local, neighborhood-based partnerships to experiential student learning, academic research, policy advocacy, and community health.”

The second awardee team consists of Miami Law’s Abigail Fleming who leads the Environmental Justice Clinic; Dr. Armen Henderson from the Miller School of Medicine; Lynée Turek-Hankins from the Abess Ph.D. program in environmental science and policy; Dr. Katharine Mach and Jennifer Niemann from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science; and Dr. Scot Evans and Margo-Fernandez Burgos from the School of Education and Human Development. The team will develop and implement a series of presentations and conversations focused on antiracism and climate justice.

The project will address the climate change adaptation increasingly occurring in cities and regions around the world. Climate impacts often function as a threat multiplier against a backdrop of intersecting drivers of inequality. Just adaptation must recognize the uneven starting points, which include the history of enslavement, colonization, redlining, and marginalization in many forms. The emergence of climate justice builds from a long legacy of work and action, particularly from Black communities, striving towards environmental justice. Climate justice addresses challenges of equity within and across countries, communities, and generations. Policies inherent to climate response are intertwined with questions of their consequences for all people and the processes through which transparency and responsibility of decision-making are ensured.

“At UM, there is a phenomenal opportunity for building interdisciplinary scholarship on climate justice in the classroom and in research, and enduring collaborations between science and society to advance climate justice,” they wrote in their proposal. “To support societies, scholarship on climate justice must connect disciplines and go beyond campus.”

The third project, “Joint Academic Nurtureship for Underrepresented Students: A Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics Initiative” responds to the underrepresentation of Black/African-American students and professionals in STEM fields by implementing an innovative tiered mentorship and research internship program for underrepresented UM undergraduate and public high school students. One of the JANUS partners is the First Star University of Miami Academy, a holistic college preparation program for high school students in foster care and interdisciplinary research project, started by Miami Law Professor Kele Stewart. Along with Stewart, the JANUS collaborative team includes the Miller School of Medicine’s Drs. Ashu Agarwal, Sylvia Daunert, Lunthita Duthely, Andrew Dykstra, and Fabrice Manns; Dr. Wendy Cavendish from the School of Education and Human Development; Dr. Michael Gaines, assistant provost of undergraduate research and community outreach; Dr. Katie Gant of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis; and Dr. Luccina Uddin from the Department of Psychology.

A key initiative of the University’s Roadmap to Our New Century, U-LINK was launched by the Office of the Provost in 2016 to support the kind of multidisciplinary collaborations needed to address complex societal problems.

The University issued a special, rapid U-LINK challenge in response to the violence and injustice that have come to the forefront of our national consciousness in recent weeks. The purpose of the competitive grant funding is to catalyze interdisciplinary collaboration that can advance understanding of individual, institutional, and/or structural oppression, and its associated impact on multiple outcomes of interest, such as: health, educational achievement, income inequality, reimagined practices in the criminal legal system, and public policy.

This newest group of recipients is the fourth cohort awarded Phase I grants, which are intended to help teams build cohesion and refine their approach to the problem.

“We were a little concerned that that we would, in some sense, run out of people who thought U-LINK was a really good idea and wanted to participate,” said Vice Provost for Research John Bixby, who co-directs U-LINK with Susan Morgan, associate provost for research development and strategy. “Yet we’ve maintained a pretty good level of interest, which shows me that the cohort of individuals interested in this kind of work is larger and deeper than we thought, or that the interest is increasing as a result of people hearing about U-LINK and understanding what it does.”

Phase I teams who complete their preliminary projects will be eligible to apply for Phase II grants, which are intended to advance the most promising projects to the stage where they can attract external funding, which is already happening with some early Phase II projects.

“We’re so impressed with the level of success that our Phase II teams are achieving,” Morgan said. “It’s still so early for U-LINK to have achieved these impacts. Clearly, the teams are generating the kind of innovative ideas that result from meaningful interdisciplinary integration—and that funders are interested in.”

Read about Miami Law’s social justice and public interest program