Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Event Brings Together Multidisciplinary Audience

Written by Brian C. Moon – Center for Clinical and Translational Science

On March 7, 2024, an enlightening virtual event titled “Historic Lines, Current Divides: Connecting Redlining to Present Day Disparities in Birmingham” was hosted via Zoom, shining a spotlight on the enduring impacts of redlining practices in Birmingham and their ripple effects on present-day disparities. The forum was an initiative co-hosted by the Social Science and Justice Research (SSJR) pilot UWIRC and the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS), uniting a multidisciplinary audience to explore the intersection of historic housing policies and current social and health inequities.

The event commenced with Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Professor and SSJR Director, providing a comprehensive overview of the event, emphasizing the program’s commitment to addressing issues of access, inclusion, equity, justice, and human rights through cutting-edge research. This set the stage for a deeply engaging discourse on Birmingham’s redlining history and its ongoing consequences.

The first presenter, Dr. Lonnie Hannon, Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy, offered a profound analysis of Birmingham’s segregation practices, including redlining, and their foundational role in shaping the city’s residential patterns and community empowerment dynamics. His presentation underscored the systematic denial of services to black communities and the generational impacts of these discriminatory practices.

Dr. Peter A. Jones, Associate Professor and SSJR Associate Director, expanded the discussion to the realm of public policy, tracing how redlining influenced urban planning and public policy decisions. His insights into the role of redlining in the design of interstate systems in Birmingham illuminated the depth of its influence on community development and segregation.

Next up, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology & Oncology, Dr. S. M. Qasim Hussaini delved into the tangible health disparities emerging from redlined neighborhoods, particularly in cancer care. His research highlighted significant disparities in diagnosis stages, treatment, and survival rates for colon cancer patients from historically marginalized communities, stressing the need for equitable healthcare solutions. (Read more about Dr. Hussaini’s research here.)

The forum culminated with Assistant Professor of Medicine and CCTS Senior Administrative Director, Dr. Jennifer Croker, who echoed the sentiments of previous speakers, emphasizing the vital role of transdisciplinary teamwork in overcoming the various issues highlighted throughout the event. Croker praised the groundbreaking work of researchers like Dr. Hussaini, whose research offers valuable insights for healthcare improvement and policy formulation and underscored the CCTS’s commitment, in collaboration with SSJRUAB Geospatial Research and Information Domain (GRID), and the Social Determinants Core, to making geospatial data more accessible for research endeavors. To this end, the CCTS has extended time-limited support to boost access to GRID by researchers with nascent knowledge of geospatially informed data resources to get their projects underway—email Ariann Nassel for more information. By lowering technical and financial barriers, the CCTS aims to foster innovative projects that address educational, social, and health disparities. Croker’s call to action encouraged participants to transform their ideas into impactful research, marking a proactive step towards addressing the complex challenges discussed during the forum.

For those who could not attend or wish to revisit the discussion, this session was recorded and is available for viewing on the CCTS Video Channel.

Recap: SSJR Event on Community Sponsorship of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

The IHR and SSJR, along with Alabama Interfaith Refugee Partnership (ALIRP) co-sponsored an event on February 8, 2024, featuring Dr. Kathryn Libal, Associate Professor of Social Work & Human Rights, and the Director of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Libal’s research, and the topic of this talk, focus on community sponsorship of refugees and asylum seekers. 

She first approached this study after observing the lack of social workers present at the center of peace work, especially those working with refugees from the Middle East. She intended to investigate the types of support systems that are in place to help refugees and asylum seekers find the necessary resources for when they arrive. Before presenting her research, Dr. Libal explored the authority the President holds to propose the number of refugees who can be settled into the country each year, and the move to privatize refugee resettlement, expecting community organizations to bridge the gap created by the government. For this to work, Dr. Libal insisted that there has to be a strong social safety net, one which the United States does not have. 

Dr. Libal’s study conducted 55 interviews (and 6 follow-ups) of volunteers at community sponsored organizations in an attempt to understand why volunteers donate their time and efforts to this work of resettling refugees. Some of the things she found in the process were fascinating. A common theme among these organizations helping refugees settle were faith-based alliances stepping up to address this gap. Many volunteers simply acted out of good will and were motivated by the proximity to the issue of immigration in their own lives. Dr. Libal’s study also highlighted some problems these organizations were facing, including how some volunteer groups held stereotypes or preconceived notions about the refugee groups they were interacting with, and the lack of trained professionals in these organizations. She also highlighted how the refugees, at times, felt hesitant to voice their opinions and concerns due to the risk of appearing ungrateful. Regardless of these issues, these community organizations created space for cultural context and exchange between the volunteers and refugees where volunteers were able to use their economic and social privilege to help people settle in a foreign world. In these interviews she conducted, Dr. Libal discerned that those who volunteered in these organizations did so as a form of humanitarian work rather than politically motivated action. To address the next phase of her project, Dr. Libal addressed the deep concerns she has of the upcoming election and how that will impact the human rights obligations America has toward refugees, asserting that the chances of claiming asylum will become much more difficult and dangerous. 

Recap: Dr. Elizabeth Niehaus Speaks About Her Research on Free Speech in Classrooms

On February 5, 2024, the Departments of Philosophy, English, Political Science & Public Administration, the Institute for Human Rights (IHR) and the Social Sciences and Justice Research center (SSJR) co-sponsored an event to host Dr. Elizabeth Niehaus at the Hill Student Center Alumni Theater for a conversation on free speech in classrooms. Dr. Niehaus is an Associate Professor and the Graduate Faculty Chair at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

Dr. Niehaus discussed her research, focusing on potentially offensive rhetoric students have the capacity to express in classrooms. She conducted in depth interviews to highlight how students think about potential harmful speech, and how they think about their own speech within a classroom setting. During the event, she shared with the audience many of the general themes that emerged while she conducted her interviews. One of these themes emphasized the complexity of the topics discussed in a classroom setting, while another theme she detected in her research was the question of what students expected from a collegiate education. Still, another theme that emerged during her research was what it meant to be harmed in a classroom discussion, and what kind of emotional or mental toll this harm could have on someone. This also led to a discussion of who is a legitimate victim of harm, and who should be held accountable for causing harm? Dr. Niehaus explained, on the matter of accountability, that some of her interviewees also brought up the question of intent and whether accountability should focus on the intentions of the person causing harm, or the outcomes of the harm caused, regardless of the intentions. Most interestingly, connecting the previous theme to the next one, Dr. Niehaus scrutinized the way many of the students she interviewed also spoke of a person’s speech reflecting on their character or morals. The interviewees questioned whether the speech one expresses within the classroom should impact the way they are perceived outside of the classroom setting. As she explained, many social connections students make in college transform into professional connections in the future which can have widespread consequences on their academic and professional future. Towards the end of the conversation, Dr. Niehaus spoke to the issue of the mainstream crisis narrative of “self-censorship” which has, in effect, led students to censor themselves in classrooms. Finally, she addressed the massive influence donors and mainstream news (and media outlets in general) have on free speech within institutions, especially academic institutions. 

Recap: SSJR Research Seminar “Risks and Consequences of Community Gun Violence Exposure”

Dr. Daniel Semenza, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, and the Department of Urban-Global Health in the School of Public Health at Rutgers University. He is also the Director of Interpersonal Violence Research at the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center. 

The New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center approaches this field of work with a multi-disciplinary research focus, aiming to establish the root causes of gun violence, to help prevent future instances of violence, and translate their research into policies and programs that can be adopted at the local, state, and national levels of government. Their center has three main goals, research, training, and outreach/translation. Through these goals, the center aims to better understand the nature of gun violence, studying not only the victims that are directly impacted by gun violence, but also how those instances of violence impact the larger community. They highlight the consequences of gun violence on an individual level, community level, and a societal level, exploring the prevention and treatment of gun violence. They also research the usefulness of existing laws and policies, and help promote the safe, responsible use of guns. 

During the seminar, Dr. Semenza discussed the different levels of violence exposure, from direct exposure (as the victim of gun violence) to secondary exposure (as family, friends, or peers of victims of gun violence), to community exposure (which includes witnesses, and those who hear/live near the sites of the gun violence incidents). He also explored the impact gun violence exposure (GVE) has on an individual’s health, paying particular attention to how stress exacerbates these health outcomes. Finally, Dr. Semenza presented three research projects that his center is working on, to better understand GVE and its impacts on health and wellness. 

SSJR Pilot Grant Application Now Open

The application for SSJR Pilot Grants is now open to all UAB faculty and postdocs. Funding up to $20,000 is available to provide initial project support for new investigators, allow exploration of innovative new directions for established investigators, and encourage investigators from other areas to incorporate a social science and justice lens into their current expertise. More information is available under Opportunities.

For questions, please contact


Request for Proposals (RFP) Released: February 27, 2023

Deadline for 1-page Concept: March 20, 2023

Concept paper feedback provided to investigator: April 15, 2023

Deadline for Full Applications: May 22, 2023

Awards Announced: June 15, 2023

Funding Start: June 15, 2023

SSJR Fellows Announced

Join us in congratulating this semester’s SSJR fellows:

  • Anna Helova, DrPH, Department of Health Policy and Organization/Sparkman Center for Global Health, School of Public Health
  • Shannon McCarthy, PhD, Department of Human Studies, School of Education
  • LaToya Melton, MSW, Department of Social Work, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Lilian Mina, PhD, Department of English, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Claire Greenstein, PhD, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Mary Ann Bodine-Al Sharif, PhD, Department of Human Studies, School of Education
  • Caroline Richter, PhD, Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Julie Paul, PhD, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, School of Education
  • Jessica Jaiswal, PhD, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Heersink School of Medicine
  • Jenna Reynolds, PhD, Department of World Languages and Literatures, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Dr. Catheryn Orihuela, PhD, Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences

The SSJR Fellowship lasts one semester and focuses on specific skill development relating to social science and justice research. SSJR fellows participate in SSJR workshops and receive additional training and feedback.

The SSJR Fellowship Program has the following objectives:

  • Develop independent researchers in social science and justice research through mentored training.
  • Provide training on the research approaches and viewpoints social science and justice research can offer non-social science disciplines.
  • Teach scientific writing and specific research skills such as grant writing, methods in social science and justice research, and collaborative approaches.
  • Provide instruction on working in interdisciplinary teams.

The spring 2023 iteration of the SSJR Fellowship Program focuses on grant writing. Participants will be taught grant preparation skills with the tangible goal to produce grant applications and new interdisciplinary projects that incorporate perspectives or policies of equity, inclusion, justice, and human rights suitable for submission to an external agency. The final product will be a grant proposal written (and submitted, pending applicable submission deadlines) by each fellow during the training period or shortly after.

Recap: SSJR Research Seminar “Human Rights and Engineering”

Dr. Shareen Hertel, Professor of Political Science and Human Rights at the University of Connecticut, introduced UConn’s Engineering for Human Rights Initiative.

The Engineering for Human Rights Initiative (EHRI) is a collaborative venture between UConn’s School of Engineering (SoE) and Human Rights Institute (HRI) that addresses human rights implications of the most significant challenges in engineering and technology in six key research areas:

  • Water, Health & Food Security
  • Product Design, Manufacturing, and Supply Chain Management
  • Community Planning, Resilience and Justice for a Changing Environment
  • Engineering Education and Accessibility Rights
  • Engineering Substances and Process Sustainability
  • Cybersecurity, Privacy and Human Vulnerability.

The Initiative involves 60 faculty affiliates across departments within UConn’s School of Engineering and in the School of Medicine; School Social Work; Law School; School of Business; College of Liberal Arts & Sciences; and College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources.

Dr. Hertel discussed how social sciences and justice perspectives can be integrated in engineering, the challenges that come with cross-disciplinary collaboration, and the impact this program had on engineering in the state of Connecticut. UConn trains most of the state’s engineers who now have been trained in including equity, justice, and human rights as part of their work. She also discussed ongoing conversations with industry, academia, education, and communities and how stakeholder engagement is key for the social sustainability of engineering initiatives.

Recap: SSJR Research Seminar “Interdisciplinary Social Science Research”

SSJR’s inaugural virtual research panel highlighted several different examples of interdisciplinary research, teaching, and community engagement currently happening among UAB faculty from a range of departments. Panelists discussed their collaborative activities, and efforts incorporating a social science lens into various disciplines and topics.

Speakers included:

• Laurel Iverson Hitchcock, Ph.D., MPH, LICSW/PIP; Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, who discussed her use of the Poverty Simulation as a teaching tool.

• Olivio J. Clay, Ph.D. FGSA, Professor, Department of Psychology; Director, Community Outreach, Diversity & Inclusion (CODI) Core | UAB Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC); Director, Analysis Core | Deep South Resource Center for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR). Dr. Clay discussed the multi-university collaborative Deep South Resource Center for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR).

• Tina Kempin Reuter, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Human Rights | Director, Social Science and Justice Research; Associate Professor, Political Science and Public Administration | Anthropology | Social Work. Dr. Kempin Reuter discussed her collaboration with the School of Engineering in work on smart cities.

• Michael Mugavero, M.D., MHSc, Director, Center for Outcomes Effectiveness Research and Education (COERE) | Co-Director, Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) | Co-Director of the Center For AIDS Research; Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases. Dr. Mugavero discussed a social determinants of health framework guiding the  Center for Outcomes Effectiveness Research and Education (COERE).

• Michelle Wooten, Ph.D., Lead, Starry Skies South | Assistant Professor of Astronomy Education, Department of Physics. Dr. Wooten discussed innovative strategies for teaching students about the importance of dark skies and her work with Starry Skies South.

SSJR seeks to be responsive to the core mission of the UWIRC program, which is to catalyze cross cutting research and discovery, and generate new knowledge that is beneficial to society. Our panelists joined us from various disciplines which may seem disconnected, but all illustrate work that recognizes how individuals’ behaviors, experiences, and outcomes are embedded within the complexity of various contexts (families, neighborhoods, schools, cities) within which life unfolds.