USF selects 23 research projects for funding in anti-racism effort

A University of South Florida research task force working to address racial issues and attitudes on a local, national and global scale has selected 23 projects exploring a wide range of issues in systemic inequality, economic and health disparities, Black history and contemporary challenges for funding.

The USF Research Task Force on Understanding and Addressing Blackness and Anti-Black Racism in our Local, National and International Communities, which was first announced by the university in July, selected the projects as a first-of-its-kind initiative designed to create deeper understanding of complex issues while forging solutions and productive community partnerships. The effort was prompted by several factors, including the long-standing issues of racism and institutional violence brought to the forefront by the recent deaths of Black men, women and children due to excessive force from law enforcement, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s Black communities and other concerns.

Projects spanning eight USF colleges and all three campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee will be part of the year-long effort funded through $500,000 provided by the Office of the Provost and USF Research & Innovation. The Florida High Tech Corridor Council also is supporting the effort.

The projects include a series of efforts within the Tampa Bay region to address systemic issues in education, health care, economic inclusion and identity, while other projects will take USF researchers to as far away as Brazil and South Africa to examine those same issues.

Including co-principal investigators, nearly 90 USF faculty members are involved in the research projects, some of which also will include undergraduate and graduate student researchers.

The initiative reinforces USF’s Principles of Community, which affirm the values of inclusivity, equity and mutual respect.

“The University of South Florida has a responsibility to help create a civil, humane and compassionate society that deeply values diversity and inclusion,” USF President Steve Currall said. “Advancing innovative, interdisciplinary research is a key element of our active commitment to addressing racism in society.”

The projects selected are:


African American Burial Grounds & Remembering Project – Living Communities Challenging Silenced Histories in Florida.

Principal Investigator (PI): Antoinette Jackson, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology

Community Partners: Robles Park Village and Robles Park Tenant Council Association; Hillsborough County Branch of the NAACP; Carter G. Woodson African American Museum; Florida Public Archaeology Network; Cardno; and Diamond View Studios.

The proposal focuses on activities to identify, interpret, preserve and record unmarked, previously abandoned and underserved African American burial grounds in Florida, with a focus on Tampa’s Zion Cemetery and St. Petersburg’s Oaklawn Cemetery.


Ending Racism to End HIV: A Qualitative Pilot Study to Examine the Impact of Racism and Intersectional Stigmatizing Identities on Black Adolescents Living with HIV in Tampa Bay.

PI: Tiffany Chenneville, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology

Community Partner: EPIC/Empath Health

The purpose of this project is to assess anti-Black racism and resulting HIV health disparities among Black adolescents through focus group discussions and in-depth interviews. The goal is to refine, improve and culturally adapt existing HIV stigma intervention and treatment programs.


Education and Resilience among Congolese Refugee Families Coping with Remote Learning, COVID-19, and Sustained Anti-Black Racism.

PI: Dillon Mahoney, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology

Community Partner: Youth Education and Development Programs (YEDP) Tampa

This project addresses the multiple ways Black refugee youth in the Hillsborough and Pinellas Congolese communities have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, school disruptions, social distancing, pressures to support their family economically, and issues of identity surrounding the death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests.


Challenges to Engagement with Parent Education and Early Childhood Programming in a Historically Black Neighborhood.

PI: Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology

Community Partner: Champions for Children

This study highlights programs developed at Layla’s House, an initiative of Champions for Children, which provides early childhood and parenting resources to support economically disadvantaged families residing in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Sulphur Springs. The study will examine how Black children and families experience and participate in virtual parent education and developmental playgroups with a focus on the extent to which the service structure minimizes or accentuates the impact of anti-Black racism.


Black Men for CHAT (Community Healing through Activist Transformation) and the Emotional Freedom Train(ing): Get on Board!

PI: Gary Lemons, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English

Community Partner: Organize Florida

In collaboration with Africana Studies and the Institute for Black Lives, the project will comprise a seven-month, 12-track therapeutic-centered journey for self-healing in response to Black male experience of varying forms of systemic and institutionalized oppression. This consciousness-raising project will be composed of monthly sessions organized in a “virtual support circle” network. Fifty men over the age of 18 will participate.


Depicting Race: How Football Recruiting Websites Construct Quarterbacks Through Coded Language as a Sporting Racial Project.

PI: Travis Bell, College of Arts and Sciences, Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications

This research proposes an innovative examination of the recruitment of high school athletes to understand it as a systemic process of dividing athletes across racial boundaries that limits upward economic and social mobility. Specifically, this research will examine racially laden code words associated with the quarterback position, which is considered the highest profile in all sport and filled with stereotypes and explore how these labels operate as a form of racial stratification.


Blackness in a Time of Global Protest: African Diasporic Negotiations of Anti-Racism and the Global #BlackLivesMatter Movement.

PI: Omotayo Jolaosho, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Interdisciplinary Global Study

Community Partner: Instituto Cultural Steve Biko and the 1-in-9 Campaign

This book project proposes to work with African descendants on the continent and across the African Diaspora to create a book that exposes the challenges and opportunities they face in this current global movement against racism. The project partners with the Instituto Cultural Steve Biko, one of the most prominent anti-racism organizations in Brazil. In South Africa, the project will collaborate with the 1-in-9 Campaign, a feminist collective addressing entrenched racial disparities.


Colorism, Police Killings, and Anti-Black Discipline.

PI: David Ponton III, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Interdisciplinary Global Study

Community Partner: IDEA Tampa Bay

The project will study police killings and intra-racial disparities based on skin color and facial features. Studies show that racial disparities in educational attainment, income, employment, health care and criminal court sentencing persist in the United States and that Black people with darker skin and stereotyped “African” facial features fare even worse compared to lighter skinned counterparts with stereotypical European facial features.


Storytelling Saves Lives: Challenging the Stigma of Mental Illness through Stories from the Black Community.

PIs: Kyaien Conner and Kristin Kosyluk, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences

Community Partners: This is My Brave (TIMB), WE-CARE and the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network

Despite research that suggests Black Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience mental illness, only one in three seek treatment. The project proposes to deliver and evaluate a special series titled “This is My Brave (TIMB): Stories from the Black Community”. This virtual three-part series highlights the voices of Black Americans living with mental illness and/or addiction who bravely share their experiences with illness and treatment as well as messages of hope and recovery, with the goal of reducing stigma and encouraging critical conversations about Black mental health.


A Strengths-Based Approach to Addressing Racial Challenges Impacting Black Students.

PI: Ruby Joseph, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences

Community Partner: Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, Inc.

This grant will investigate Black student enrollment, retention and graduation disparities in institutions of higher learning. The project will examine racial, educational and other challenges faced by two groups of Black students: USF juniors and seniors and 12th grade students in East Tampa who are planning to attend a four-year university in 2021-2022. The project aims to develop a comprehensive action plan of solutions that addresses specific disparities in enrollment, graduation and other issues identified in the focus groups.


The BEST Way to Support Black Men/Youth in Medical and Healthcare Fields.

PI: Vonzell Agosto, College of Education

Community Partner: BEST (Brain Expansions Scholastic Training) Academy

Despite an overall increase in the number of Black males graduating from college, the representation of Black men in medicine has remained unchanged for nearly 40 years in the United States. In partnership with the BEST Program, 75 participants will be interviewed to examine critical factors that support their retention as Black male students pursuing medical/health academic majors and occupations.


Racism in School Exclusionary Suspensions (RISES).

PI: Brenda Walker, College of Education

Community Partners: Allen Temple AME Church, Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, Inc., and the Hillsborough County Branch of the NAACP

Racism in School Exclusionary Suspensions (RISES) explores school suspensions and the extent to which perceptions of racism or differential treatment are held by African American adolescents and their families. The project will conduct surveys and virtual focus groups of more than 400 participants.


PI: Denise Davis-Cotton, College of Education

Community Partners: Booker Middle School and The Circus Arts Conservatory

The purpose of this pilot study is to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a new racially inclusive curriculum for middle school students. Dismantling Drivers of Racial Disparities will work with teachers in incorporating Black literary dance, music, cinematic and circus arts traditions from social protest movements to highlight the contributions of Black artists to American and world traditions.


The Impact of Mentoring on Persistence, Resilience, and Success Outcomes of Black Women Academics.

PI: Tanetha Fisher, College of Education

Community Partner: The Florida Education Fund and The McKnight Foundation

Underrepresented in all of academia, the need to foster Black women faculty success has been at a critical point for several years. Not only do Black women have lower salaries at the time of hire as compared to their male counterparts, which can affect career trajectories and upward movement, they also experience tenure and promotion at decreased rates. This research proposal supports an interdisciplinary mixed-method study to explore the experiences of Black women academics who have had successful experiences with programmatic mentoring.


Argumentation Games to Cognitively Inoculate Against Anti-Black Bias.

PI: John Licato, College of Engineering

Community Partner: Oakridge High School, Orlando

The project will study structured argumentation games (SAGs) as a means of inoculating against anti-Black racism. SAGs are dialogue-based games in which the interactions between participants are subject to highly controlled rules designed by artificially intelligent algorithms that can mitigate some of the damaging effects of unrestricted argumentative dialogues, such as what might occur on social media platforms. Similar games have demonstrated cognitive inoculation effects, whereby participants build resistance against misinformation. The project will explore whether SAGs have the potential to effectively reduce anti-Black bias. The Oakridge High School’s Advancing Machine and Human Reasoning Lab will partner in leading the project’s design and implementation.


Tier 1 – Game On: Grooming Black Youth for Leadership Excellence Using Video Gaming.

PI: Sylvia Thomas, College of Engineering

Community Partners: Black Girls Code, Bible Based Community Church, Special Olympics North America Region, University of Florida Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering and Philanthropy Partners, LLC.

By leveraging students’ interest in video gaming, the project aims to change the trajectory of Black youth by opening pathways to leadership roles. Research has found that video games predominantly created by one racial group can unintentionally perpetuate racial stereotypes and limit players’ choices to preconceived notions of racial bias, supporting the need for game developers from diverse backgrounds. The project will use real life leadership, coaching and mentoring experiences of executives to engage Black youth in game development and pathways to leadership while identifying biases. The Florida High Tech Corridor Council also is supporting the project.


Engineering Identity Development of Black Teachers and Students Through the PHASES of Success Design Process and AREN Technology.

PI: Jonathan Gaines, College of Engineering

Community Partners: Hillsborough County Public Schools, the NASA AEROKATS and ROVER Educational Network (AREN)

The goal of AEROKATS and ROVER Education Network (AREN) is to train the next generation of scientists, engineers and other professionals to observe and understand our planet Earth through experiential learning using NASA technology and data in real-world settings. CAMP AREN will recruit 10 Black teachers and 20 Black middle school students for a three-week summer program. Each teacher will be teamed with two middle school kids to engage in activities designed to increase engineering identity development of Black participants.


Increasing Job Opportunities for Young Black Fathers to Improve Child and Community Health.

PI: Ronee Wilson, College of Public Health

Community Partners: REACHUP, Inc.

Inconsistent employment and unstable finances hinder young Black fathers’ ability to develop healthy relationships with their children. This project seeks to address unemployment and underemployment among young Black fathers by providing the infrastructure for these men to fill employability skills gaps in manufacturing industries. Through interviews with young Black fathers and human resources professionals and executives at manufacturing firms, the researcher will examine how family health practices of young fathers differ in times of stable employment compared to unemployment and underemployment; what employability skills do young Black fathers possess; and to what extent are employers actively committed to and engaged in recruiting and hiring young Black men.


Still Here: The Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives in Context.

PI: Noel Smith, College of the Arts, USF Contemporary Art Museum

Community Partner: Dorothy Davis

This project introduces the community to photojournalist Griffith J. Davis in an exhibition at USF Contemporary Arts Museum opening in January 2021. From his young days as a campus photographer for Black colleges in a segregated Atlanta to service in World War II as a “Buffalo Soldier” in Genoa, Italy, to his career as an international freelance photojournalist and years in the Foreign Service in Africa, Davis was an “observer of life” whose works continued resonances in contemporary American culture and society.


Gut Microbiota Composition and Function During Pregnancy and Lactation in Rwandan Mothers.

PI: Adetola Louis-Jacques, Morsani College of Medicine

Community Partner: Rwanda Medical Research Center

The postpartum period is a window of opportunity to address prevention of cardiometabolic diseases (CMD), a leading cause of mortality among Black women in all countries. Breastfeeding has been associated with a decreased risk of CMD. The project will investigate the impact of lactation on gut microbiota function in Rwandan mothers in the postpartum as a step towards understanding the underlying mechanism of lactation’s long-term benefits.


Exploring Unique Experiences and Needs of African American/Black Pregnant Women.

PI: Vanessa Hux, Morsani College of Medicine

Community Partner: Tampa General Hospital

Black women have higher rates of pregnancy complications and maternal morbidity and mortality. Interpersonal and systemic discrimination may contribute to these differences though the exact mechanisms remain unclear. In this pilot study, the project explores the interpersonal and systemic experiences of Black women and their contribution to pregnancy outcomes and prenatal care. Fifty self-identified Black pregnant women in the late second to early third trimester of pregnancy will be asked to complete a survey on trauma history and gendered racial microaggressions. The researchers will also collect hair samples to measure cortisol, a hormone used to examine biologic mechanisms of stress. This pilot work will aid in characterizing the associations between trauma, microaggressions and the production of cortisol; assessing the pathways by which trauma and microaggressions influence pregnancy outcomes; and determine the specific needs and experiences of Black women in prenatal care.


Black Microbusiness Economic and Social Resilience to Natural Disasters: The Case for Targeted Policy Interventions and Resiliency Support Network for Minority Lead Microbusinesses.

PI: Matthew Mullarkey, Muma College of Business

Community Partner: St. Pete Chamber of Commerce, St. Pete Innovation District and Grow Smarter St. Petersburg.

One of the hardest hit sectors of the economy in St. Petersburg during COVID-19 is the microbusinesses of five or fewer employees, especially in historically underserved Black neighborhoods. As the region rolled out various small business loan and grant programs, such as those afforded by CARES Act, community leaders discovered almost all of the Black hairdressers, childcare providers, creatives, auto repair shops and many other microbusinesses in the community could not qualify for economic relief. Many of these microbusinesses employing thousands of people, often at subsistence levels, have closed. The project will investigate and address the inequity and develop a plan to intervene with microbusiness owners and aid agencies to build future economic resiliency.


Mad Men: Using Cultural Competency to Reduce Racist Portrayals of Blacks in Advertising.

PI: Kelly Cowart, Muma College of Business

Community Partners: WILLMOORES, LLC and Fully Promoted

Black and non-Black audiences can benefit from a better understanding of the harm caused by negative portrayals of Blacks in the media. Although the intersection between racism and marketing is longstanding, it is highly visible in the current sociopolitical environment. Advertising catchphrases such as #WeStandTogether may seem sincere when included in corporate messaging. Yet, they are hypocritical and opportunistic if they do not accompany meaningful social action. In this pilot study, researchers will develop a cultural competency learning module specifically for marketing professionals and evaluate its ability to improve understanding, communication and interaction across cultures and reduce racist content in marketing.

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