internal awards, faculty holding an award

Sarah Hill

Internal Awards for COVID and Racial Justice Research


These months have been difficult. Every person has tired of the quarantine. Tired of the anxiety, the endless memes on social media, the debates. At the same time, we’re facing issues of race relations. These issues are taxing. But higher education is strong. Universities are using its font of resources to understand these important issues better.

Internal awards

Many universities have begun offering internal awards for COVID-19 and racial disparity research, and the University of Houston is among them. President Renu Khator has allotted $500,000 for each endeavor; the proposals are due in early August.

Vice president of research and technology transfer Amr Elnashai, Ph.D. sent a letter to the UH faculty and staff. He referenced funds ranging from $10,000 grants to $70,000 awards for multidisciplinary groups of researchers.

Universities encourage novel approaches for combating the prevalence of racial discrimination. They also encourage materials and inventions that slow the spread of COVID-19 while we explore the development of vaccines.

Diversity is key

The funds represent a strong desire to curb the division and fear in our society. The letter reads: “The University of Houston, as the second most diverse Tier 1 research university in the most diverse city in the country, is particularly well situated to respond to this current and long-term crisis with a program of research, scholarship or artistic expression to address the causes and consequences of racism and ethnic stereotyping, and develop implementable and society-based solutions.”

Derek R. Avery, a professor in the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, co-authored a piece in the MIT Sloan Management Review, entitled, “Organizations Cannot Afford to Stay Silent on Racial Injustice.” He is quoted as saying, “It is critical for leaders to engage with the issue of racism and discrimination, both because of its effect on employees and in order to demonstrate their genuine commitment to diversity and human rights.”

Others following suit

Many other colleges are doing the same as UH. For instance, Washington University’s Population Health college will provide roughly 18 internal awards for researchers studying COVID-19.  Penn State is gathering big data to determine health outcomes and is particularly taking note of the racial inequities that are causing more People of Color to die due to the pandemic.

“What can I do?”

In the MIT Sloan Management Review article, Avery suggests two things. Educate yourself and “put your money where your mouth is.” Speaking up for what you believe in is also empowering – and more important than ever when the stakes are as high as they are now. Universities are on track to make history with the charge they’ve been given. Higher education is not elitist, remains very diverse and is molding the next generation to be tolerant and inquisitive, even while overcoming obstacles in the forms of racism and pandemics.