The Global Racial and Social Inequality Lab Celebrates its One-Year Anniversary at UNH

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Melanie Matts

Durham, NH- Dean Michelle Dillon gives opening remarks at the GRSIL ceremony on Oct. 7.

Melanie Matts, Managing Editor

DURHAM, NH- A year following the grand opening of the Global Racial and Social Inequality Lab (GRSIL) within the University of New Hampshire’s College of Liberal Arts (COLA), the UNH community gathered to celebrate their first year of research projects on Friday, Oct. 7. 

GRSIL is a dynamic lab that facilitates research, pedagogical activity and community engagement among COLA faculty and students. They take interest in projects on topics regarding racial and social inequality. Funding for the lab and its initiatives is provided through external grants and donor gift funds that help pursue projects “that are effective in addressing today’s pressing societal problems.”

Avary Thorne, both coordinator of GRSIL and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at UNH said, “In a nutshell, the lab has three main components- teaching pedagogy, research and community engagement. We’re here to serve COLA students, faculty and staff in the work that they’re already doring or considering doing. In some ways COLA students and faculty partner with us through our small grant projects, internships, our January research opportunities and our COLA summer fellowships.”

As the Hamilton Smith Hall Atrium filled with UNH community members, faculty and students showcased their ongoing projects from GRSIL’s first year. There were a variety of projects ranging on unique topics regarding racial and social inequality – each leaving the crowd in a grand applause.

Dr. Monica Chiu, professor of English at UNH and small grant recipient, gave a synopsis of her recent project, “Drawing Together: Storytelling through Cartooning with Granite State’s Indonesian American Community.” 

“Drawing Together, is a community-based project that uses the practice and pleasures of cartooning to create an archive of racial living and of being among Indonesian Americans of Somersworth.”

When asked how she will incorporate “Drawing Together” in her classroom at UNH, Chiu said, “Once the comics are collected and published, I will use the anthology in my Asian American Studies courses and comics and graphic narrative courses. Students will be introduced to a New Hampshire community they may not have known existed—Indonesian Americans—and will be encouraged to use the formal elements of comics scholarship to read the images on the page.”

Chiu isn’t the only one looking to make an impact both in and out of the classroom at UNH. 

Michael Shun, resident artist in Composition within the Department of Music, and Devin Morin, third year Music Education major, have an ongoing project, “Singing With Educational Choral Music That Is More Gender Inclusive.” Shun and Morin’s project focuses on creating an inclusive choral repertoire. 

“This project actually started when Devin approached me about how to make a music classroom more gender inclusive,” said Shun.

Morin described their experience with the GRSIL so far, “I think it’s been really good. I hadn’t known they (GRSIL) existed, so this was our way to discover it, and engage with it. I think it’s good to have programs that are trying to create change within UNH.”

Shun and Morin are continuing to work with GRSIL on their project into 2023. 

As the GRSIL celebrated its one-year anniversary since it opened last October, the team reflected on the importance of the lab and its accomplishments thus far. 

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve noticed is that people joined the work! I was really pleased to see how many faculty members and students partnered with us and created the lab. By bringing their work into the space, that was a privilege to see,” said Thorne.

Dean of COLA, Michelle Dillon, commented on the success of the lab’s first year, and her goals for the lab moving forward. 

“I think we had a really successful first year. My priority this year is to make sure we don’t sit on our laurels but that we really institutionalize that success.”

“I want to make sure that this year again, we go out there and get a lot of good students to apply, and do a lot of work to pair them with an appropriate disciplinary or interdisciplinary faculty members and provide them the support of having mentorship,” said Dillon.

The collaboration between students and faculty plays a crucial role in the success of the lab. 

“Student-faculty collaboration is such a powerful and meaningful exercise for both student and teacher,” said Chiu.

Sophie Shields, second year Biomedical Science: Medical Microbiology major at UNH took ITAL 444, “Feelings,” and worked with her team along Dr. Anna Wainwright, professor of Classics, Humanities, Italian Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at UNH to pursue a project, “We Hold These Truths.”

“For the ‘We Hold These Truths’ event, my group and I wanted to explore the portrayal of truth via different media outlets. To elaborate on this issue, we wanted to look at a specifically relevant issue on college campuses, sexual assault,” Shields said. 

Shields, Wainwright and their team worked on writing two articles: one for a magazine targeting young women as the audience, and the other for a sports magazine, targeting young men, according to Shields. 

“We Hold These Truths” was Shields first time working within GRSIL. She described her experience as “nothing short of wonderful.”

“The project was an opportunity to explore concepts I was personally interested in, while also providing me with the support to do so in an effective, academic way. The event itself was also an amazing way to build interpersonal and professional skills, such as the ability to introduce myself, present projects and answer questions about not only the work done, but the idea and implications behind it,” said Shields. 

The ceremony came to a close filled with feedback, networking and light refreshments provided by The Freedom Cafe; however, the work of GRSIL and its members is far from over.

GRSIL will run another cohort of their January Research Opportunity (JROP) this winter. Call for proposals for JROP are due Oct. 31.

The lab is open to all COLA majors and minors. More information on student opportunities and ongoing projects can be found here

“This is a really great first experience for students,” said Thorne, “and one of my goals is to make sure it gets in front of students to join the work if they chose to.”