Mini-grant award winners announced

Rebecca Dunphy, News Editor

Promoting diversity and inclusion have been on the forefront of many people’s minds over the last several months and Mercyhurst is no exception. To promote anti-racism efforts on campus, the Office of Mission advertised three mini-grants for the purpose of furthering the university’s goal to be a welcoming place for all.

The genesis of these projects came from the January OneBook program where participants read and discussed the book “So You Want to Talk about Race” by Ijeoma Oluo. Wanting to ensure that the wider campus community was engaged, the organizing committee thought it was important to provide funding to these efforts and thus the grant program was born.

Students, faculty and staff could all form teams to generate ideas and submit a formal grant proposal.

Vice president for Mission, Greg Baker, D.Min, established a group to select the winners, including associate provost, John Olszowka, Ph.D., social work professor, Laura Lewis, Ph.D., officer for Equity, Inclusion and Justice, Sr. Natalie Rossi and campus minister Michelle Scully.

“I convened this group to discuss and vote on the proposals that we thought would have the greatest impact within and beyond the MU community,” Baker said.

Groups of at least three participants, including students, faculty and staff, were welcome to submit proposals for review. The group selected three projects entitled “African-American Heritage Trail Virtual Tour,” “Be the Change: Becoming a diverse, equitable, inclusive and anti-racist community—a student essay competition” and “Gaming Against Racism,” respectively.

The first proposal will help the African-American Heritage Trail, created by history professor Chris Magoc, Ph.D. and community partners, to become more accessible to a larger audience by offering a virtual tour option. The tour was unveiled last summer, but COVID-19 has prevented organizers from sharing it broadly.

With the goal of creating a 30-minute video, viewers will be able to learn about African-American history in Erie County with the help of recruited students who will provide 5-minute explanations of each site.

The second proposal, “Gaming Against Racism,” was conceived by associate professor of Psychology Matthew Weaver, Ph.D., assistant professor of History, Averil Earls, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychology, Melissa Heerboth, Ph.D., and assistant professor of Criminal Justice, Emmaleigh Kirchner, Ph.D. With this funding, the group will be able to provide the campus access to a game entitled Star Power.

“Basically, Star Power illustrates how vulnerable individuals and groups become to temptations to abuse power over marginalized groups, which gets at some of the core aspects of racism,” said Weaver. “By using the game, or more accurately the simulation, we can address the problem of racism and in a manner that can be engaging, enlightening and active for the learners.”

The group plans to hold student game nights and discussions with the game in the hope that it will give students a more comprehensive understanding of systematic racism.

The third project, “Be the Change,” will invite students to participate in an essay contest about building a diverse, inclusive and anti-racist community. “Conversation is the first step to action. We hope this essay competition, with the winning prize incentives, will motivate concerned students to express themselves and hopefully trigger student conversations and a chain reaction of social change to build a more inclusive and harmonious Lakers community,” assistant professor of biology, Rajinikanth Mohan, Ph.D., said.

Mohan created this proposal with the help of senior intelligence Studies majors, Sarah Klein and Marina Boyle, assistant professor of sociology Nicole John-Danzell, Ph.D. and assistant professor of English, Joanne Hosey-McGurk, Ph.D.

The awarded grant money will provide cash prizes for the authors of the winning essays and memorabilia as an extra incentive for all those who take part.

“The funds will be used to support prizes for meritorious essays, to publish the essays to promote campus-wide awareness on this subject and to create memorabilia (e.g. T-shirts) bearing the same theme that students can wear to make a statement of their support for social change,” Mohan said.

After receiving so many exciting and creative proposals, Baker reached out to director of Community Engagement, Colin Hurley, seeking his office’s support so that additional projects could be fulfilled.

Because of the quality of the grant requests that were submitted, the number of grants to be awarded was increased from three to five.

“The two projects supported by Community Engagement were a clear fit for that office because they offer direct mission-centered support to the local community beyond campus,” Baker said. The additional two proposals to be fulfilled are the “Sprout Project” and “Diehl Mural.”

The Sprout Project, facilitated through Erie Arts and Culture, will provide students the opportunity to help members of the CHROMA Guild to brand their business or service. The CHROMA Guild is an organization focusing on providing opportunities and resources to creative and cultural professionals of color throughout the local area.

“This particular partnership enables us to exercise our core value of Hospitality and Global Awareness. Students will be digging into a variety of cultures in a way they may never have done before and relationships built on mutual respect will be the most important outcome from this design activity,” associate professor of Art, Jodi Staniunas Hopper, said.

The second project, as the name suggests, will support the painting of a mural at Diehl Elementary School that reflects the diversity of the school’s students and the Action Plan created by Diehl’s Community School Leadership Team.

“The student population at Diehl is very culturally rich and diverse. The idea behind the mural is to help create a school culture that reflects that diversity. Every student deserves to have a sense of belonging – especially in their school,” said community school director for Diehl Elementary School, Karen Donnelly. “I think this project aligns with the Mercyhurst Mission beautifully, particularly the core values.”

Each of the award winners will be provided $300 for the development of their proposed project. The funding allotted to the winners through the Office of Mission comes directly from a special fund by the Sisters of Mercy to support mission-centered programming.

When Baker was asked how all these projects, as a whole, support the Mercy Mission, he responded with the following.

“We will follow-up with all of the grant awardees to ask them that same question later this spring to see how successful we were, but we strongly believe that all of these initiatives, individually and taken as a whole, offer proactive and creative means to continue to talk about anti-racism and to listen to the stories and perspectives of others, all with an eye for improving policies and practices on campus and in broader society,” said Baker. “These initiatives clearly connect with the university’s goals for Equity, Inclusion and Justice from summer 2020, with the Sisters of Mercy’s critical concern for anti-racism and with the university’s core values.”

Congratulations to all award winners and best of luck with the fulfillment of their respective projects.