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University of Tennessee College of Social Work announces Social Justice Innovation Initiative Grant winners

KNOXVILLE – The University of Tennessee College of Social Work (UTCSW) today announced the winners of the 2019 Social Justice Innovation Initiative (SJII) grant program. $75,044 was given to five projects, which will work to shape and elevate the conversation surrounding social justice issues through rigorous research, public outreach, expert testimony and innovative education. Each of the projects is being developed and implemented by University of Tennessee students, faculty and staff.

“The Social Justice Innovation Initiative, established through a generous donation by a friend of the college, Susan Cooper, is an amazing example of what can be accomplished when students, community members, faculty and staff come together to address issues,” stated Tony N. Murchison, Special Projects Manager at University of Tennessee College of Social Work. “2018 was the inaugural year for the SJII grant program, and four amazing projects focused on challenging racism came to fruition as a result. We have set the bar even higher in 2019, and our grant winners are taking the challenge head-on.”

The grant winning projects for 2019 include:

1. SJII Challenging Sexism: Nancy Humphreys Campaign School ($17,544) Nashville faculty members Kate McClernon-Chaffin, Stacia Martin-West, Kim Crane-Mallory and Doctor of Social Work (DSW) student Julie Franks will bring the Humphreys Campaign School to Tennessee. The training will be open to current students, alumni, faculty, field instructors and staff of University of Tennessee College of Social Work (UTCSW). The objective is to teach women social workers from University of Tennessee, Knoxville how to campaign for themselves, how to work on a campaign, and how to effect change in the Tennessee Legislature.

2. Images of Intersectionality ($17,500) Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW) students Misty McPhetridge and Makala Johnson with Faculty Advisor Amanda Gandy will coordinate events on both Knoxville and Nashville UTCSW campuses. Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected to the Virginia General Assembly and The Advocate’s 2018 Person of the Year, will speak about intersectionality. The events will be hosted against the backdrop of public art show – with photography of diverse community members holding signs identifying their intersectionality. The overall goal is to educate the Knoxville and Nashville communities in a creative way about intersectionality in order to reduce stereotypes, discrimination, and bias.

3. Student Action Committee on Racism and Sexism attend NCORE Conference ($15,000) Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) students Abby Cooper, Brittany Wilkerson and Jordan Thomas with Faculty Advisor Ragan Schriver will send UTCSW students, faculty and staff to the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) in Higher Education conference in Portland, Oregon. The overall goal is to utilize the information and skills learned at the conference to develop a toolkit focusing on race, power, and privilege to present at UTCSW student orientation sessions. This grant will enable six students and two faculty to attend the conference. The Dean’s Office has generously agreed to match funding to send another six students and two faculty to NCORE 2019.

4. Highlander Center / UTCSW Collaboration ($20,000) MSSW students Krystal Gourley, Sarah Lewandowski and Mary Hansen, with Faculty Advisor Christy Hickman will work with staff at the Highlander Research and Education Center to host a series of weekend training sessions. The workshop and skills learned will build over three weekends, through innovative, thoughtful, popular education techniques to help participants further understand and address the problematic social, political, and psychological factors around sexism and racism. To build collective understanding on how these elements consistently evolve, not only within individuals and the local communities, but also institutionally such as on collegiate campuses (i.e. The University of Tennessee). The target audience is UTCSW students, both in Knoxville and Nashville, campus student organization leaders, and Knoxville Community Based Organizations already working to address racism and/or sexism in the community. The goal is to train students and community organizations to further approach their work from a transformative justice and intersectional perspective with skills for social change.

5. Challenge Sexism: A Holistic Approach to Eating Disorders ($5,000) MSSW students Mary Hansen, Karrie Murphy and Allison Bradley with Faculty Advisor Becky Jackson have invited Syd Yang to host a workshop on UTCSW’s Knoxville and Nashville campuses. As an adult survivor of bulimia, Syd Yang is a mixed-race, queer/non-binary writer, healer and intuitive counselor who has been creating one of these support spaces through her work at Blue Jaguar Healing Arts. The workshop is entitled: Food, Bodies + Liberation: An intersectional approach to healing toxic relationships with food for all bodies. The overall goal is to build an intersectional, feminist and liberation centered approach to whole body wellness for people of all genders.

The SJII grant program was developed in 2017 by long-time University of Tennessee College of Social Work donor Susan Cooper, who looked to the University to create a unique framework for understanding many of society’s most pressing issues around education, healthcare, and social and economic prosperity. Total funding for this initiative is $350,000, with $75,000 going to grant recipients each year, for five years.

The College of Social Work officially launched SJII in 2018, with the theme, “Challenge Racism.” Eleven student and faculty groups applied for funding through this initiative, and four proposals were funded. The scope of projects was vast and addressed social justice and racism through various means including voting empowerment, art mentorship, bystander intervention and organizing a coalition of black social workers.

For 2019, the program theme is “Challenge Sexism, Racism and Intersectionality.” The SJII Grant Committee members include faculty Dr. Lisa Reyes Mason, Dr. Andrea Joseph and Carmen Foster, and student representative Chelsea Stephens. SJII grantees have been challenged to think creatively about how to address sexism, racism and intersectionality. For more information visit

Published May 11, 2019

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