College of Media faculty receive University funding for projects addressing racism and social injustice

Call to Action

Three faculty members in the College of Media are among the first recipients of the inaugural Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Research Program. Announced by Chancellor Robert J. Jones in July 2020, the program pledges $2 million annually to prioritize research and new solutions that address racism and social injustice.  

Angela Aguayo and Julie Turnock, associate professors in the Department of Media & Cinema Studies, received $100,000 for the project they lead called the “Illinois Community Media Project.”

Anita Say Chan, associate professor in the Department of Media & Cinema Studies and at the iSchool, and Tracy Smith from Technology Services received $100,000 for “Dignifying Digital Connection: Addressing Race and Class Privilege in Broadband Infrastructures for East Central Illinois Families, Students and Seniors.” Chan is also part of an interdisciplinary group that received $40,000 for “Reparative Data and Media Initiative: Extending Racial and Research Justice in Champaign County.” 

“The awarded proposals each have the potential to make immediate change in our community and represent the heart of our land-grant mission and the very best of who we are as a university,” said Chancellor Jones in November, when recipients were announced.

A research symposium highlighting the work of the projects is planned for Fall 2022. Read about all 22 projects funded for 2021-22.

Learn more about the College of Media-affiliated projects below.

Illinois Community Media Project

The Illinois Community Media Project emphasizes community media—people making and circulating media that is most aligned with the interests of that community.

“It seems like this is a really critical time for us to think through how media production can be a place for people to find their footing in a public space, and to understand their agency and their possibilities through this process,” Aguayo, project leader, said.

As part of engaging with the community, Aguayo and Turnock are working with Champaign-Urbana media outlets like Illinois Public Media and the Independent Media Center to discuss audience outreach, content, and media literacy. Other community partners include Cunningham Children’s Home, the Urbana Arts and Culture Commission, and the Immigrant Services of Champaign-Urbana. Aguayo said they’re working to develop programming specific to each organization’s needs.

For example, Aguayo has already advised undergraduate students who provided the Immigrant Services of Champaign-Urbana with a much-needed video profile for fundraising and social media.   

Aguayo plans to bring media resources to communities that don’t have them through workshops and other programming during the spring semester. College of Media students will help create documentaries about the communities as part of Aguayo’s course “Documentary and Social Change.”

Aguayo said she’s very excited for people in underserved communities to find power in authorship, articulating their own thoughts and experiences through media.

“Stories are how we communicate what we value,” she said. “And someone being empowered by that process is a really beautiful thing to watch.”

Dignifying Digital Connection: Addressing Race and Class Privilege in Broadband Infrastructures for East Central Illinois Families, Students and Seniors

laptop package
The Community Data Clinic, led by Anita Say Chan, and its partners handed out laptops to families in early November. (Photos courtesy of Project Success of Vermilion County.)

Broadband access and connectivity is essential for daily activities and economic opportunity—but it’s not equitably distributed, Chan said. And like most technological systems, broadband infrastructures overwhelmingly privilege access by middle-class, white, and non-rural users.

The goal of this project is to distribute subsidized laptop-hotspot packages and to deploy an outreach and technology support program to bridge the race and class divides of broadband infrastructures, and ensure that low-income and rural families have access to the Internet and related resources. 

Chan said they’re working with groups like the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development, the Housing Authority of Champaign County, Project Success of Vermillion County, Cunningham Township, PC’s for People, and other social service organizations.

“Sometimes technological systems render disproportionate harms upon different populations,” she said. “And the question that our project asks is: What can we do to help bridge some of those gaps?”

Alongside ensuring broadband access, Chan and other project leaders are researching why this access is a challenge for some communities in order to find solutions. 

“Technology is not an all-inclusive framework,” Chan said. “We’re in conversation with the organizations and with the households to try and gain a more granular understanding of what unmet broadband needs are.”

Reparative Data and Media Initiative: Extending Racial and Research Justice in Champaign County

This project awards $5,000 grants and fellowships to community organizations working on media and data justice. Chan said they’re also developing workshops on data skills and media making for grant recipients as well as creating a network of racial justice researchers. 

Grant recipients were recently notified; selected projects include working with youth on digital storytelling, developing technology centers, using local church networks to bring technology to communities, and setting up trainings for managing technology resources.

“There are many organizations that are up to this kind of work, or that want to do this kind of work, but they are challenged to find the resources and the support networks to be able to execute the project,” Chan said.

Bringing together a group of critical-race-, data studies- and public-engagement researchers, the project leaders include Chan, Katie Shumway from the School of Social Work, Amy Leman from the College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences, Rachel Magee from the School of Information Sciences, Lisa Mercer from the College of Fine & Applied Arts, Gilberto Rosas from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and Karen Simms, a community collaborator from CU Trauma & Resilience. Community members participating in the project represent the Cunningham Township Supervisors Office, Champaign County Mental Health Board, and Champaign County Developmental Disabilities Board.

—Vivian La, Communications Intern