L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

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The Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE)

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Achieving racial equity is one of the most vexing challenges facing our nation today. Even as America has become more racially and ethnically diverse, we have become more polarized. Social justice and racial equity fosters opportunities that make it possible for everyone, particularly communities of color, to fully prosper and realize the American dream. The presence of racial equity aims to equip everyone with the opportunities and resources needed to succeed in our society. The absence of racial equity weakens democracy and undermines economic growth and economic development. To achieve social justice and racial equity, we must intentionally disrupt the historical injustices that have perpetuated racial and cultural barriers to success.

The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University is a recognized national leader in advancing racial justice through multidisciplinary scholarship, research, training, and engagement. Our goal is to re-double our efforts in advancing racial equity to inform public policy, governance, and practice to improve conditions for marginalized voices within our society.

The Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE) within the Wilder School serves as a vehicle to advance racial equity and social justice through multidisciplinary scholarship, research, training, and engagement. The goal of RISE is to be the national leader in advancing social justice to inform public policy, governance and practice to improve conditions for marginalized voices within our society, including communities of color, LGBTQIA individuals, people with disabilities, incarcerated populations, survivors of domestic violence, and women.


Social Equity Research and Analysis

To position RISE as the national “go-to” intellectual thought leader on racial equity and social justice, we translate and disseminate research through a variety of projects, including:

  • Bi-annual Social Equity Report Card - A snapshot of the country’s progress toward social equity. This data will be disaggregated by state and region.
  • White Papers - Papers with a focus on contemporary public policy issues such as confederate monuments in public spaces, the opioid crisis, infant mortality, residential segregation, etc.
  • Social Equity Policy Analysis - An annual social equity policy analysis of bills brought forward in each General Assembly session.
  • Research Reports - Groundbreaking research conducted and communicted by RISE faculty that foucses on social equity and aims to inform public policy.


Examples include:

  • Addressing Eviction: Our Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA) is working with the Wilder School's RVA Eviction Lab to help meet eviction data and research needs and supporting the work of local government, community-based organizations, elected officials, and other advocates. Because this problem and the associated research questions will continue to shift both regionally and locally, we make data public, reliable, and responsive to the needs of the community, region, and the state.
  • ADVANCE-IT: Through a grant from the National Science Foundation, our Survey and Evaluation Research Laboratory (SERL) is working with others at VCU to increase recruitment, retention, and advancement of underrepresentation groups of women faculty (e.g., by race/ethnicity, disability status, sexual orientation, foreign­born and foreign­trained status, and faculty appointment type). 
  • Promoting Food Access: Supported by a planning grant from the National Science Foundation, this project entails working working with a team of researchers from across the university, as well as with multiple community partners, to identify solutions to food barriers in the city of Richmond. 

Social Equity Training

RISE works to expand social equity training for career professionals who are dedicated to promoting racial equity, anti-racism, and social justice in public affairs careers. This training includes:

  • Webinars - Webinars to allow broad audiences to engage in online discussions about social equity.
  • The Minority Political Leadership Institute - A collaborative initiative of The Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. It is an intensive eight-month experience designed to promote leadership development for individuals interested in issues important to minority communities including: community economics, political climate, civic engagement, and equity. MPLI offers insights regarding leadership legacy and culture, personal leadership, policy and legislative processes, responsible stewardship, public service, and integrity for future leaders. Each program year, participants engage and interact with communities across Virginia and learn about unique strengths and issues facing different regions of the Commonwealth.

Social Equity Tools and Resources

Race infographic [View Image]RISE works to develop tools and resources for those interested in learning about and teaching social equity, with a particular focus on race and racial equity. This includes:

  • Social Equity Case Studies - Case studies that provide an opportunity for researchers and practitioners to analyze and engage in decision-making upon a variety of realistic cases related to social equity.
  • Podcasts - Monthly podcasts recordings in which researchers can discuss their work. This series will enable RISE to communicate new research, information, practices, tools, etc., for a broad audience.
  • Annual Public Policy Polling - Three annual Public Policy Polls in conjunction with members of the General Assembly to assess citizens’ views on policy issues facing the Commonwealth, with an emphasis on racial and equity impacts. Poll results from Virginians are used to better understand what the public thinks in key policy areas such as public safety, economic development, education, mental health and housing. The resulting snapshot gives policymakers insight on opinion throughout the Commonwealth, complementing the input they receive from their own constituents while also highlighting the varying results by race, socioeconomic status and region demographics. Poll results are shared back to the public through the media, as well as with policymakers in the General Assembly and state government.


Community Collaborations

To continue promoting civic engagement in communities of color, we are expanding our collaboration with Virginia Union University. This includes examining and applying the leadership legacy of Governor Wilder to undergraduate and graduate students, student scholarships, and the digitization of the extensive Wilder library collection.

Racial Equity Action Plan


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Racism. COVID-19. These are two major pandemics that cannot be wished away. In fact, we are seeing the blatant intersection of the two. African-Americans are  disproportionately dying from COVID-19, assuming higher levels of risk in front line or near front line positions to enable social distancing of the privileged, all while also having limited access to quality health care. The recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have brought the disproportionate killings of African-Americans by police to the forefront.

The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs is nationally recognized for our commitment to social equity in our teaching, research, and service. Our faculty, staff, students and alumni are not bystanders to social injustice and believe we must aggressively contribute to eliminating institutional racism. The Wilder School has a history of devoting resources to diversity, equity, and inclusion issues and programs. The work of our Racial Equity Action Plan will complement and enhance the ongoing work of the School’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee while also involving a much broader group of faculty, staff, students and alumni working together to improve the Wilder School, our students, and current and future public sector employees and leaders.

View the 2020 Racial Equity Action Plan


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