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Since its creation in 2000, the Lumina Foundation has focused almost entirely on college completion. But the foundation has now added racial justice and equity as a priority.

Indianapolis-based Lumina announced June 12 that it will provide $625,000 in grants to 19 colleges and universities with the goal of improving race relations on campus. The grants, part of Lumina's recently created Fund for Racial Justice and Equity, are unlike much of Lumina's past work. But Danette Howard, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Lumina, believes they fall directly in line with Lumina's goals of increasing degree attainment and closing achievement gaps for minority students.

"Issues of campus climate often play into whether or not students are successful in their academic pursuits, and therefore whether or not those same students are successful in earning their credentials," Howard said.

She said Lumina wanted to do more than "simply issue another statement" after the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., last August.

“We decided to develop and support the Racial Justice and Equity Fund after the really devastating incidents in Charlottesville last year," Howard said, "in part because those incidents occurred on, near and around the University of Virginia, a college campus."

Virginia is among the 19 grant recipients, which include two- and four-year colleges and both public and private institutions. Each college will receive $25,000 to $50,000 to fund campus climate projects that are already in the works. Lumina was selective with its grants -- over 312 colleges applied, but the foundation tried to pick institutions that have begun initiatives to better their campus climate.

"We did not want to support institutions that felt that they couldn't do anything unless they had our support, but that they felt as if they could use our support to leverage what they had already started," Howard said.

For example, Bard College, another grant recipient, plans to focus on art and creativity as a means to tell stories that have historically been silenced. Through monuments, signage and art installations, the predominantly white college hopes that its community will learn more about the histories of local indigenous and minority groups.

“Storytelling and aesthetics are powerful ways to move people, especially towards racial equity,” said Ariana Stokas, dean of inclusive excellence at Bard.

Illinois Central College will use its Lumina grant for a project that focuses on the Peoria community, where most of its African-American student reside. Peoria recently was named by 24/7 Wall Street as the worst city for African-Americans.

“High pockets of poverty, employment gaps, lack of affordable housing, criminal and social justice concerns contribute to disparities between blacks and whites in Peoria,” Rita Ali, vice president of diversity and community impact at Illinois Central, said via email. “These issues, coupled with two recent police killings of African-American males, have brought about protests and demands by community groups demanding solutions to issues of racial justice and equity.”

The college is planning to co-host a two-day summit on racial justice and equity with Peoria Public Schools in February.

The University of California, Los Angeles, is using the Lumina funds to support the development of a mobile app that will allow students to crowdsource information about the campus climate in real time. The app, which asks students to answer a few questions about their feelings on campus every two weeks, will create a database of incidents and experiences that will help the university better understand student attitudes on campus.

Other grant recipients include:

  • Iḷisaġvik College, which will work with the First Alaskans Initiative to integrate cultural understanding into its curriculum.
  • Skagit Valley College, which will focus on Latino student achievement by holding an educational justice conference and implementing racially just teaching strategies for faculty and staff members.
  • Temple University, which plans to host "interactive community conversations" that help participants reflect on their roles in a racist culture.
  • The University of New Mexico, which will develop racial justice and bias strategies to be integrated into the curriculum.

A full list of recipients can be found on Lumina’s website.

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