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New student grants at Drexel fund ‘racial literacy’ for pre-kindergarten teachers

‘Anti-racism’ program advocates for ‘social change,’ university says

New “anti-racism mini grants” at Drexel University are being used to encourage race discussions with pre-kindergarten students and other projects in Philadelphia.

The grant program, run by the university’s Lindy Center for Civic Engagement, gives students up to $1,000 for “collaborative projects that advance understanding of and action against systemic racism” in the West Philadelphia area, according to the center.

One recipient, Rebecca Epting, an educational leadership major, used the money this summer to host a “racial literacy” workshop for student teachers in the Kindergarten Bridge Program, according to the Lindy Center website. The five-week program helps prepare upcoming kindergarteners to start school.

Epting told Drexel News a lot of education literature emphasizes the importance of discussing race in the classroom but does not provide practical steps to help teachers implement discussions.

With the grant money, Epting said she was able to help teachers figure out ways to talk about race with pre-kindergarten students in the Bridge program.

Epting said she also bought lunch and two books for the teachers: “Culturally Responsive Teaching In-Person and Online: An Action Planner for Dynamic Equitable Learning Environments” and “Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom.”

“Racial literacy is something you work on throughout your education career,” she told the university news. “These books offer lots of opportunities for reflection and walk you through implicit bias and how to connect with students and families in the classroom.”

The College Fix reached out to the Drexel University media office twice in the past two weeks to ask about the grants. Questions included how it believes racism is embedded in the kindergarten classroom and how the university would respond to those who say anti-racism projects are divisive and biased.

The university did not respond to The Fix’s requests for comment.

The Lindy Center awards grants to students whose projects focus on “anti-racism” in the areas of education, dialogue, culture, arts, economic mobility and global perspectives, according to its website.

Its mission prioritizes student projects that facilitate “deep relationship-building within” the Philadelphia community because “social change comes from collective, public problem-solving.”

This year, the center awarded five anti-racism grants to students and student organizations. It also presented seven grants to students during the 2021-22 school year.

Other projects included a Courageous Conversation event to bring students and community members together to discuss race, religion and culture; and an agriculture cookout to give away free food and seeds and to “honor food sovereignty projects.”

The anti-racism mini grant project started in 2021 with funding from Drexel’s 24 Hours of Impact, a single-day, school-wide fundraiser that supports “academic programs, the student experience, innovation and civic engagement.”

Cara Scharf, associate director for civic learning at the Lindy Center, told Drexel News they came up with the idea in 2020 “after the murder of George Floyd.”

Thinking about how to use the 24 Hours of Impact funding, Scharf said they decided to create grants for students interested in anti-racism projects.

“As a civic engagement office, we realized that statements are not enough, and we wanted to put some money where our mouth was and support people who are doing the work to dismantle racist systems in society,” Scharf told the university news.

Seeking another point of view, The Fix contacted For Kids and Country founder Rebecca Friedrich as well as the Foundation Against Intoleration and Racism, which advocates against critical race theory programs in public schools. Neither responded to two email requests for comment from The Fix.

The College Fix asked Friedrich, whose organization works to restore morality and patriotism in American education, and the Foundation Against Intoleration and Racism how the anti-racism mini grants could affect children’s education and if elementary school students should learn about anti-racism from their teachers.

MORE: Civil rights complaint filed against NYU for whites-only anti-racism workshops

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About the Author
Marshelle Paulino -- Franciscan University of Steubenville