Fostering Racial Justice Research

Working toward racial equity

Issues of injustice and inequality have long plagued our nation and our world. Research is one way forward to new insights and dramatic change. To foster anti-racism research and address critical systemic racism issues, Indiana University launched the Racial Justice Research Fund in June 2020, jointly supported by IU's Vice President for Research and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs.


Dozens marching with signs and face-masks on during a Black Lives Matter protest.

As FY2019-20 drew to a close, more than three dozen projects were funded by the program. The projects will pursue a wide range of topics including the pandemic's impact on Black-owned businesses, partnering with school districts to encourage racial justice youth activism, storytelling to heal racial trauma, the impact of training on police reforms, the Black Lives Matter movement, and many other critical topics.

These projects join important ongoing research by IU faculty pursuing timely and cutting-edge work aimed at achieving real and lasting racial justice in our community and across our state and nation. For example:

Building community for scholars and others

Over the spring and early summer of 2020, researchers from IU's Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity helped document U.S. racial history by creating a digital archive of signs and other objects (masks, flags, t-shirts, speeches written on paper) from protests against police violence and systemic racism. With partners, the center also brought race scholars and activists together for a seven-week online panel series that fostered powerful conversations about the legacies of racism and traditions of protest and resistance. The panel series was a collaboration between CRRES, IU Bloomington Arts and Humanities Council, and College of Arts and Humanities Institute.

CRRES provides an interdisciplinary home for dozens of faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and students who study race and ethnicity. The Postdoctoral Scholars Program is a key part of the center, providing support and mentorship for a new generation of scholars such as Candace Miller, a sociologist studying the impact of racial inequalities in urban neighborhoods.

Housing disparities in Black neighborhoods

A woman with outstretched hands holding a sign saying 'STOP RACISM'.

Renters in Marion County, Ind., areas with larger concentrations of Black and nonwhite renters spend a greater percentage of their income on rent, making it difficult to save enough money for a home loan or make a down payment to purchase a home, an IU study found.

Research on housing disparities consistently shows that white residents are more likely to be homeowners than Black residents, placing Black families at a disadvantage. To begin to remedy those disadvantages, a research team from Center for Research on Inclusion and Social Policy at the IU Public Policy Institute recommends that lenders, leaders, and other stakeholders look at the ways their organizations can play a role in making affordable housing more attainable for Black residents and how they can help address the systemic lack of resources in predominately Black neighborhoods. These two changes can help more Black families begin to build their wealth through homeownership.

Bias in ride sharing platforms

Bias persists in ride-sharing platforms such as Uber and Lyft, even when information that could indicate a rider's race and gender is removed from ride requests, according to research from IU’s Kelley School of Business. The study found evidence of drivers' bias after they accepted a ride request, when the rider's picture would then be displayed. Underrepresented minorities were more than twice as likely to have a ride canceled as Caucasians. Signaling support for the LGBT community (such as a profile photo with a rainbow flag) also led to significantly higher cancellation rates.

A driver behind the wheel of a car looking at their phone at a social ride-sharing app, choosing whether to accept a request.

Jorge Mejia, assistant professor of operations and decision technologies at the Kelley School, and his co-author Chris Parker at American University, believe ridesharing companies should note rider characteristics when a driver cancels and penalize drivers for biased behavior, such as moving them down the priority list so they have fewer ride requests. They also say policymakers may need to mandate what information can be provided to a driver to combat bias or create policies that require ridesharing platforms to monitor and remove drivers based on biased behavior.

Racial disparities in pain care

Some white physicians are more likely to recommend opioid treatment to Black patients with chronic pain over non-opioid forms of treatment and less likely to refer Black patients to pain specialists, according to an IUPUI study.

Using computer-simulated patients, which demonstrate and communicate the same type of pain in the exact same way, the researchers were able to manipulate the characteristic of race more precisely in their exploration of racial disparities in pain care. According to the research team, white providers may feel less comfortable talking to Black patients about pain because they don't have enough experience interacting with people who are different from them. The study may help providers become more aware of how their comfort level with those who are different from them affects their patient care.

The study was led by Adam T. Hirsh, director of the IUPUI Pain Research Laboratory and an associate professor of psychology in the IUPUI School of Science.


A nurse and an elderly black woman discussing medication.