Oct. 16, 2017

UVA Flash Funding Projects on Vinegar Hill, Other Topics to Address Racism Locally

This article appeared in the The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress and is re-posted with permission.

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Batten’s Christine Mahoney, director of UVa’s social entrepreneurship program, and two other UVA faculty members and two members of the Charlottesville City Council proposed one of the approved UVA Flash Funding partnerships: the “New Vinegar Hill” project.

Developing the project with Mahoney will be Batten’s Bevin Etienne and Elgin Cleckley of the UVA School of Architecture, and City Councilors Wes Bellamy and Kathy Galvin.

The project aims to help the city have a community-driven checklist for approaching future redevelopment projects.

“There is a history in Charlottesville, and in lots of cities, that when redevelopment happens, it’s top down,” Mahoney said. “The destruction of Vinegar Hill and relocation of those communities to Friendship Court and other areas was not a community plan; the communities were subject to that plan.”

(Photo of old Vinegar Hill community from Charlottesville Housing Authority via UVA’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities.)

UVA’s Flash Funding program was announced at the beginning of September. Grants were awarded to projects that work toward “Achieving the Culture and Environment We Value,” with preference for ideas for programming that address unconscious bias and racial tension.

Immediately, proposals began pouring in, said Archie Holmes, vice provost for academic affairs. About a month after the call went out, Holmes said he has awarded all of the $100,000 available to eight projects. He even asked Provost Tom Katsouleas for a little bit more money so that he could fully fund the final grant.

“Sometimes, you just need to get something started,” Holmes said. “This money allows them to get started.”

Holmes said he and other university leaders first got the idea for a diversity project about a year ago. The particular idea for the grant came in August, after seeing a funding initiative from the Association of American Colleges & Universities.

They decided to seek projects that would connect the city and the university and tackle racial bias. Holmes didn’t directly choose any of the projects, but he said he appreciated the three chosen that involve the community.

“Those were the ones that gave back the most to me,” he said.

Mahoney already had been working with community leaders and thinking about possible ways to harness social entrepreneurship classes toward racial justice initiatives. When the call came from the provost’s office for projects, Mahoney said it provided the impetus and ability to put a proposal together.

“All eyes have been on Charlottesville, in a bad way, but maybe there’s a silver lining where people maybe are thinking about how to move beyond divisions,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney’s project aims to use the architectural concept of design thinking to generate and refine ideas for community redevelopment.

Design thinking, said Cleckley, an assistant professor of architecture and design thinking, describes the process of doing research, talking to lots of people, prototyping ideas and suggesting solutions.

“There’s a way to form relationships here. This new way of thinking is very inclusive,” Cleckley said. “We’re at a time of new types of conversation. One thing that everyone has is a desire to talk and to be listened to.”

Over the next year, high school students will reach out one-on-one to community members and ask for ideas for development of a vibrant and economically thriving mixed-income neighborhood. Those suggestions will be honed and refined through another round of outreach by university students. By the beginning of next summer, Mahoney hopes, the community will be able to vote on a few of the best suggestions, which will then be presented to the Charlottesville City Council.

“There was a light shed on racial disparities in August, and then again this month, and I think that might convince people to get involved,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney received $25,000, money she plans to put toward research efforts and parties to kick off and close the project.

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Other approved Flash Funding projects include a creative-writing project, a hackathon for underrepresented genders and ethnicities, anti-bias training for teachers, and a panel of LGBT speakers of color.

The latter proposal came from Taylor Lamb of sorority Sigma Gamma Rho.

Lamb’s sorority wanted to address a perceived gap between African-American and LGBT communities. She discovered the local LGBT Speakers Bureau, and she and her sorority sisters decided to host a panel with LGBT speakers of color.

The sorority requested, and got, $200 to buy snacks for the panel, and Lamb said they hope to hold the event in November.

“In the wake of Aug. 11 and 12, a lot of people were trying to specifically address the events,” Lamb said. “But creating a more inclusive environment also helps. The Nazis were marching against everyone who has a marginalized identity, and we can’t get separated. Events like these help to bridge the gap.”

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Bevin T. Etienne, Lecturer, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; 
Assistant Professor, McIntire School of Commerce

Bevin@virginia.edu, 434-924-9495

 

Elgin Cleckley, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Design Thinking, School of Architecture

elc2n@virginia.edu, 434-924-8459

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Professor of Public Policy and Politics and Director of Social Entrepreneurship @ UVA
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