A new initiative was rolled out this fall by the Office of Vice President and Provost to provide grants to promising student projects that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The program is called Actions that promote Community Transformation (ACT) and it provides seed grants ranging from $3,000-$5,000 for this campus priority. Graduate students and faculty in the College of Education received four of the 52 grants awarded in this first year.
Faculty Training on Classroom Accessibility
Anita L. Swanson, Jigna Patel and Jordyn Jensen have teamed up to develop a project aimed at creating a more inclusive learning environment for University of Texas at Austin students with disabilities. Swanson is a project coordinator at Texas Technology Access Program and Patel is project coordinator for E4 Texas. The trio is based at the college’s Texas Center for Disability Studies and is using ACT funds to create an asynchronous and synchronous training program for UT faculty and staff. The training program has two goals: to shift attitudes and perceptions about teaching students with disabilities and provide low-effort and high-impact solutions professors can use to make their classes more accessible and inclusive.
To provide some extra motivation, Swanson and Patel will award faculty cash prizes in two categories: overall best or most accessible curriculum, and most improved curriculum. “When we don’t know things, we tend to fear them,” Swanson says. “Our goal with this training is to address any fears or misconceptions among faculty and for the professors who participate to walk away with the feeling that making their classrooms more accessible enriches the learning environment for everyone.”
Virtual Symposium on Campus Cultural Centers
M. Yvonne Taylor and Tiffany L. Hughes have received ACT seed funding to organize a virtual symposium highlighting the inception, ideation and implementation of campus cultural centers for marginalized communities. Scheduled for April 2021, the symposium will feature three panels with speakers representing diverse cultural centers at UT Austin and peer institutions across Texas and the United States. Taylor is director of external relations for the college and Hughes is a doctoral student in the Higher Education Leadership program.
The symposium is a first step toward a larger effort to propose a center for Black women on campus focused on mentorship, professional development and interdisciplinary scholarship. UT Austin has several organizations on campus focused on marginalized communities, but according to Taylor, who is also a doctoral student in the Higher Education Leadership program, they don’t always have the opportunity to work together or learn from each other.
“We are excited that the idea received funding and hope that the symposium will spark collaboration and additional support for Black women and femme staff, faculty and research,” Taylor says.
Daring Dialogue Sessions
A trio of doctoral students collaborated on an ACT grant to spearhead Daring Dialogues, a series of learning sessions for pre-service teachers. The idea for these powerful sessions came out of the trio’s experience as elementary school teachers, graduate students and field supervisors for student teachers. Jimmy McLean, Alexis L. Bigelow and Monica E. Pineda are in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
“Many of the student teachers we observed did not realize that some of the things they were saying and doing were racist,” Bigelow says. “We wanted to provide an additional space for student teachers to learn about anti-racism and how they can become anti-racist educators.”
The Daring Dialogues series is scheduled to begin in Spring 2021 and will cover a range of topics such as Troubling Colorblindness, Microaggression, and the Myth of Meritocracy. Students will have the opportunity to participate in break-out sessions that are organized by race to provide a safe and comfortable space for discussion dialogue.
Disabled Student Peer Mentorship Program
Nick Winges-Yanez and Alison Kafer received an ACT grant to take initial steps toward creating the Disabled Student Peer Mentorship program. The team will use grant funds to host a series of focus groups with disabled students to learn more about what they need and want from such a program. Winges-Yanez is coordinator of the Critical Disability Studies Program and program manager of the Texas Center for Disability Studies. Kafer is the Embrey Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and is an associate professor of English.
“The idea came from our experiences with sick and disabled students, both in and out of the classroom. These UT students are struggling with isolation, stigma, internalized ableism, and a lack of resources and support. We want to give these students the tools to name and articulate their experiences and to support each other in making UT more accessible and inclusive to all,” Kafer says.