Social work faculty among recipients of Gender Institute research grants


Undergraduate English major

Published January 9, 2024


Five UB faculty members have been awarded grants through the UB Gender Institute’s Faculty Research Grant program.

The grant program “supports research and/or curriculum development that exemplifies high quality, innovative scholarship related to women, gender and sexuality” — in particular, projects that are interdisciplinary and that will lead to applications for external awards.

Recipients during the fall 2023 round of funding are Nadine Shaanta Murshid, Andrea Pitts, Michelle Sperlich, Despina Stratigakos and Gwynn Thomas. The grants range from $1,000-$5,000 and will support interdisciplinary research projects in various fields.

Nadine Shaanta Murshid.

Nadine Shaanta Murshid, associate professor in the School of Social Work, says her grant will support research on oppression and resistance to oppression, the role of arts in producing cross-class solidarity, resistance to violence through inculcation of safe spaces, and community building. In particular, Murshid focuses her work on Bangladeshi migrants living in the global North.

“Social work is an anti-oppressive discipline. Our ambition is to work so hard that we undo the need for our work. But we’re not there yet,” Murshid says. 

Specifically, the grant will support travel to the United Kingdom for archival research at the British Library and National Archives, and observations of performances and art exhibitions in the community. She is focusing on how migrant communities, specifically the Bangladeshi community, express their cultures in their new homes. Additionally, Murshid will conduct ethnographic research and participant observations to determine if the arts can be a vehicle for resistance to oppression in the Bangladeshi migrant community.

“My hope is that through this research, I will be able to identify key practices that support solidarity-building and community, and the internal politics that may subvert solidarity,” Murshid explains, adding that she plans to report her findings in a book at the end of her project.

Andrea Pitts.

Andrea Pitts is an associate professor in the Department of Comparative Literature whose publications focus on carceral medicine, radical health activism and Latin American and U.S. Latinx feminism. Their current book project that is being supported by the grant, “Latina/x Abolitionist Feminisms: Incarceration, Agency, and Coalitional Politics,” examines the philosophical contributions made by U.S. Latinx activists and scholars critiquing state violence, prisons and policing from the 1960s to the early 2000s.

The faculty research grant will support the mentorship and training of two graduate students, as well as fund a trip to University of California’s Ethnic Studies Collection for archival research on Velia Garcia, a prominent Chicana activist, educator and researcher whose contributions to anti-carceral feminism have not been fully examined.

Michelle Sperlich.

Mickey Sperlich, associate professor in the School of Social Work, is using the funding from the grant for a psychoeducational program for pregnant survivors of trauma. The program, Survivor Moms’ Companion (SMC), helps pregnant persons navigate post-traumatic stress and related issues during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. 

This project is a continuation of Sperlich’s work developing trans-disciplinary interventions to address the connection between sexual violence and other trauma, particularly in relation to reproductive health and childbearing. She also focuses on the importance of adopting trauma-informed approaches in perinatal spaces, better preparing social workers in violence prevention and addressing health disparities. Specifically, the grant funding will support equitable access to the SMC project by creating and distributing a Spanish version of the intervention materials. 

“This effort to increase access will help to provide for the sustainability of the SMC at BPPN (Buffalo Prenatal-Perinatal Network) and further its trajectory of research capacity more broadly,” Sperlich says. 

The project will partner with BPPN to conduct a preliminary, randomized trial of the SMC this year.

Despina Stratigakos.

Despina Stratigakos, professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, is a writer and historian whose research explores how power and ideology function in architecture. She looks for stories that shake up our ideas of the past and our relationship to it. In the classroom, she aims to “make everyone detectives and discover pieces of a puzzle we didn’t know existed.”

The author of four books about issues of power, diversity and gender in architecture, Stratigakos will use the Gender Institute grant funding to support her newest project: a biography of Ella Briggs, an artist, designer and architect. Stratigakos is one of 15 historian-detectives based in four countries who are working together to research and write the biography of this “shadowy figure” who practiced in Vienna, New York, Berlin and London during the early 20th century.

“Briggs was a mysterious figure I encountered long ago, while researching my dissertation on pioneering women architects,” Stratigakos says. “I never forgot about her and, even years later, yearned to know more about her life and work. As it turns out, there were others just as curious as I was.”

Since Briggs practiced in numerous cities across the globe, a team approach was needed for the project, she notes. “We banded together to write the biography as a team, with contributors in many different locations.”

The grant will support the collaborative dimensions of the biography project — the team is hiring a writing coach to guide their efforts. Stratigakos plans to submit the biography later this year to Princeton University Press for publication.

Gwynn Thomas.

Gwynn Thomas, associate professor in the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies, focuses her research on gender politics, feminist movements and women’s political leadership and participation. The grant from the Gender Institute will be used to complete in-country field research for a new manuscript, “Feminist Activism, Right-Wing Populism and the Struggle for Democracy in Latin America.” In this work, Thomas examines the relationships between the growth of vibrant feminist movements and the rise of a new form of right-wing politics in Chile and across Latin America over the past 20 years. 

Her current project is based on research she began in Chile in 2005 with the election of Michelle Bachelet, the country’s first female president. Thomas has studied how feminist activists and movements have been at the forefront of attempts to deepen democratic practices, strengthen women’s rights and equality, and confront broader social injustice. However, these movements have increasingly become the target of a new form of right-wing populism that is gaining ascendancy across Latin America, a populism rooted in a form of aggrieved hypermasculinity rooted in misogyny and homophobia, Thomas says. Her research will trace how these two opposing political movements and their interactions are shaping the current struggles over democracy, social justice and equality.  

Applications for the spring 2024 funding cycle for the Gender Institute’s Faculty Research Grants opens on March 4.