NSF Grants Promote Collaboration Between HBCUs, Other Universities

The funding supports two projects examining politics, Black trauma and COVID-19.

Black protestors holding anti-racism signs

The University of Arkansas has received a pair of grants from the National Science Foundation to support analysis of the role of organizations and social movements on politics and policy, as well as an examination of the relationship between COVID-19 and Black trauma. 

Najja Baptist, assistant professor of political science and African American studies at the U of A, helped secure more than $1.6 million in grants from NSF’s Build and Broaden 2.0 program. The initiative encourages research collaborations between scholars at minority-serving institutions and scholars in other institutions or organizations, according to a press release.

As a three-time HBCU graduate, Baptist saw these grants as a way to give back to the institutions that supported him. Baptist graduated from North Carolina Central University, Jackson State University and Howard University, and recalls professors paying out their own pockets to help him attend conferences and support his research assistantship.

Through this collaboration, faculty can gain access to better equipped research facilities and students can gain important experience. These projects can also help build pipelines between HBCUs and historically white institutions, Baptist said.

“That’s one of the main things that stood out for me was the idea of being able to give voice to marginalized communities and to be able to empower marginalized students at historically Black colleges and universities, as well as connect the faculty,” he said.

The larger grant awards $1.16 million over four years and is a collaborative effort between the U of A, Howard University, North Carolina Central University, Georgia State University and Emory University. Baptist will serve as the principal investigator and his team will examine how organizations and social movements mediate political preferences and policy agendas among the public. Additionally, they’ll investigate how the collaboration and interaction between organizations and social movements shape traditional and nontraditional forms of political participation.

“The idea is to be able to really understand the American citizenry and what is motivating them to become politically engaged,” Baptist said.  

Primary research is typically reactive instead of proactive, meaning data is collected after a phenomenon has occurred. It often takes a few years to analyze the data, at which point the research is stale in its understanding, Baptist said. To better understand what’s happening in real-time, Baptist plans to deploy a mobile response team that can survey participants at a protest, for example, as it’s happening.

“To be able to tap into the attitudes and behaviors of those people that are participating is important,” he said.

The U of A has also partnered with Jackson State University, University of Michigan and Mississippi Valley State University on a one-year grant worth $509,767. The funding will support a project examining how Black identity impacts how someone copes with trauma, specifically COVID-19. Research will include interviews throughout the South about the Black political experience. Baptist will serve as director of research at the U of A and is the university’s primary consultant for the overall project.

The broader impact of both projects is “to add to this idea of what it means to have a more perfect union” and tell the story in a more nuanced and comprehensive manner, Baptist said. The results of these studies are expected to be published upon completion of the projects.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.