2021 Early Stage Urban Research Awards
In Spring 2021, the Initiative on Cities issued its seventh request for proposals to support early stage academic research endeavors focused on urban challenges and urban populations, both domestic and global. We received 37 applications from 20 schools and departments at BU, and and we are thrilled to announce we have funded 14 projects, including 8 led by BU graduate students and 6 by BU faculty. Topics include workforce development for formerly incarcerated jobseekers, urban coral reefs, racism and biodiversity, youth mental health, and projects in China, Ghana, and Jordan.
Click on the sections below to see each of the projects:
Reentry, Employment and Persisting Inequality: Understanding the experiences of formerly incarcerated jobseekers with employment reentry programs
Holm will examine how formerly incarcerated jobseekers in the United States perceive the reentry services that are meant to support them with employment, how these perceptions relate to their perceptions of the labor market more broadly, and how formerly incarcerated jobseekers’ perceptions and experiences vary across racial groups. This study will extend existing scholarship on reentry and labor market inequality and provide insights to urban leaders, policymakers and practitioners concerned with social justice and labor market opportunity. Learn more.
Stress in the City: Examining metabolic consequences of toxicological exposures in resilient urban corals under global change stressors
PI: Caroline Fleming, PhD Student, Department of Biology, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences; BU URBAN Program
Co-PIs: Randi Rotjan, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, College of Arts & Sciences; Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Clinical Professor, Department of Environmental Health, School of Public Health
Marine organisms located offshore from urban centers face potentially negative interactive effects from pollutants (heavy metals, microplastics, pharmaceuticals, increased nutrients) and global change stressors (increasing sea temperature). Caroline Fleming & collaborators will implement an experimental framework to investigate the effects of microplastics (pollutant vector) and caffeine (urban indicator) in ambient and elevated temperatures on the metabolic activity of the urban coral Astrangia poculata in three life stages: adults, larvae, and eggs. Overall, we aim to establish dose-response relationships for each stressor (caffeine, microplastics, and temperature) and their interactions at each life stage, providing insight into the sensitivity threshold of this resilient urban marine organism. Learn more.
Soil microbial diversity is a crucial ecosystem service provided by urban green spaces, providing nutrients to urban plants, sequestering carbon in soil, and suppressing pathogens. Racist policies implemented in city planning, like forced residential segregation through redlining, have led to more fragmentation, impervious surface area, and industry in today’s neighborhoods with higher racial and ethnic minorities, all of which increase disturbance and lower soil quality, with potential detrimental effects on soil microbiome diversity. Atherton and Bhatnagar aim to address this issue by investigating how historical racial disparities in urban space development interact with environmental factors to explain variation in soil microbiome diversity and composition across Boston green spaces. Learn more.
PI: Ian Smith, PhD student, Department of Earth and Environment, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences; BU URBAN Program
Co-PIs: Lucy Hutyra, Professor, Department of Earth and Environment, College of Arts & Sciences; Pamela Templer, Professor, Department of Biology, College of Arts & Sciences
Smith, Hutyra, and Templer aim to determine where trees in Boston are sourcing their water by quantifying the relative contributions of precipitation, irrigation, groundwater, and wastewater sources to water found in tree tissue over the course of the growing season. Learn more.
PI: Emily Williamson, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
Co-PI: Joanna Davidson, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, College of Arts & Sciences; Associate Director, Kilachand Honors College
Emily Williamson’s research explores how proverbs offer windows into understanding how a migrant community in Nima-Accra, Ghana grapples with uncertainty. Learn more.
Zhao will explore how top-down urban planning interacts with placemaking from the bottom, looking at futurist imaginations of urban migrants who relocate to a state-level “new area” in Southwest China. This project aims at understanding urbanization and the building of smart cities through a careful examination of the temporal and social implications of living an unfulfilled middle-class life, as people navigate governmental narratives, trans-regional and transnational circuits of labor, technology, and capital, as well as brand new cityscapes in their efforts to build “better homes.” Learn more.
PI: Mary Battenfeld, Clinical Professor, American and New England Studies Program, College of Arts & Sciences
Co-PI: Perri Meldon, PhD Student, American and New England Studies Program, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
African American lawyer Robert Morris (1823–1882) played a central role in civil rights struggles in Boston, particularly around school desegregation, yet is largely forgotten. The project goal is to collaborate with historic preservationists, Boston community residents, and Boston Public Schools students to create public commemorations for Morris’s 200th birthday. In the context of a contemporary racial reckoning that calls for reevaluation and removal of statues celebrating white men who enforced slavery and colonization, Battenfeld and Meldon link the activism of Morris and other 19th century Black Bostonians to today’s social justice movements. Learn more.
PI: Martin Fiszbein, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, College of Arts & Sciences
Co-PIs: Sam Bazzi, Associate Professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy & Department of Economics, UC San Diego; Thomas Pearson, PhD Student, Department of Economics, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
Bazzi, Fiszbein, and Pearson will investigate whether and how postbellum migration of whites from former Confederate states to other places in the U.S influenced local institutions and culture in ways that reproduced racial animus in their destinations. Learn more.
PI: Spencer Piston, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, College of Arts & Sciences
Co-PIs: Chas Walker, PhD Student, Department of Political Science, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences; Nick Henninger-Ayoub, PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
Piston, Walker, and Henninger-Ayoub will examine how mayors conceive of the problems of police racism and violence, which solutions they believe will be most effective in addressing these problems, and whether any of these reforms do in fact result in an elimination of the racially-disparate police practices at the heart of recent protests. The project will enhance scholars’ and policy makers’ understanding of this important topic by investigating how mayors conceive of the problems of police racism and violence and they policy solutions they prioritize to resolve them, while also summarizing any existing evidence for the efficacy of those solutions. Learn more.
PI: André de Quadros, EdD, Professor, Music Education, College of Fine Arts
The Slaying of Innocence is a music-theatre work that chronicles the true stories of two African American men who were given life sentences in prison at the ages of 15 and 16. Learn more.
Examining Dually-Involved Black, Indigenous, and Youth of Color’s Reentry Experiences in Massachusetts
Toraif’s mixed methods study will examine the experiences of dually-involved (receiving services from both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems) Black, Indigenous, and Youth of Color navigating reentry in Massachusetts, as well as factors that facilitate positive reentry experiences. Learn more.
PI: Jonathan Zaff, Research Professor, Applied Human Development; Director, CERES Institute for Children & Youth, BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development
Co-PI: Yasuko Kanno, Associate Professor, Language and Literacy Education, BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development
Through exploring the lived experiences of Black and Latinx high school students and English learners (ELs) in Boston who have stopped attending school or are tenuously engaged with school during the pandemic, we will be able to share insights with education and youth development leaders in Boston. These insights will inform their strategic planning efforts and aid in their collective goal of supporting young people of color and ELs once schools re-open fully in the fall, providing educational and other life supports that can be more personalized to each young person’s needs. Learn more.
Gourley will research the barriers Syrian and Jordanian youth in Amman, Jordan face when attempting to access formal and non-formal educational spaces and how youth conceptualize the educational spaces they are able to access. Using ethnographic fieldwork, participant observation, and mapping, she will investigate the exclusionary nature of the city while deeply engaging with youth to understand their aspirations, the challenges they face, and the strategies they employ in navigating the city and educational opportunities. Learn more.
PI: Jennifer Greif Green, PhD, Associate Professor, Special Education, BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development
Co-PIs: Astraea Augsberger, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work (SSW); Christina Borba, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, BU School of Medicine; Boston Medical Center; Margaret Carroll, PhD Student, BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development; Gloria Ng, Dual-Degree Master’s Student, SSW and School of Public Health
Green, Augsberger, Borba, Carroll, and Ng will identify and analyze existing youth mental health crisis response resources in the city of Boston that can be used by members of the Boston Public School community, as an alternative to relying on emergency service providers, and to reduce racial inequities. This project builds on work of the Boston Youth Mental Health Crisis Response Coalition, that was established in 2019 with the goal of designing and conducting multidisciplinary research to improve emergency mental health response for youth in Boston. Learn more.