Skip to Content
Mellon Foundation awards FIU $4.63M to help vulnerable communities prepare for, recover from disasters

Mellon Foundation awards FIU $4.63M to help vulnerable communities prepare for, recover from disasters

January 14, 2021 at 9:48am

Vulnerable communities, which include Black and Hispanic South Florida residents, are often disproportionately impacted by disasters such as hurricanes, floods and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.  
FIU researchers plan to study and address these racial and ethnic disparities over the next three years with a $4.63 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Commons for Justice (CfJ) project will look for solutions to address disparities in preparing for a disaster and increasing a community’s ability to survive and recover. The project was funded as part of the Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative, in collaboration with 10 community organizations and two FIU museums.
“Disaster research shows consistently that the poor are hit harder than the better-off, and in the U.S., that often means populations of color,” said Professor Richard Olson, the project’s principal investigator and director of FIU’s Extreme Events Institute and International Hurricane Research Center. “We are seeing that again with this pandemic, with our vulnerable populations taking disproportionate losses. We have to openly admit, detail and honestly address the problem. Our Commons for Justice project will do exactly that.”        
The CfJ will bring together a cross-disciplinary team of FIU faculty, led by FIU’s Extreme Events Institute and the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab. It also will include the Jorge M. Pérez Metropolitan Center, the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center, and the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs. Team members have longstanding and extensive experience with community organizations and stakeholders, who will be key partners in the project’s design and implementation.
Among the CfJ’s activities, faculty will research the most pressing disaster risk and resilience problems in predominantly vulnerable neighborhoods – from the perspective of the neighborhoods themselves – and how these problems are layered on top of other racial and ethnic injustices. Throughout the project, there will be “solution sessions” where FIU faculty and local community leaders will come together to discuss measures that can reduce disaster risk and improve resilience and advocacy for the vulnerable communities.
“At FIU we pride ourselves in making a real difference in our community,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “This grant from the Mellon Foundation comes at a critical time. We will use it to uplift the most vulnerable and establish a framework to address longstanding racial and ethnic unfairness in preparing for – and surviving – a disaster.”
While the CfJ will focus on South Florida’s vulnerable neighborhoods and communities, the project also will work with Caribbean Basin communities and a worldwide virtual network that advocates for indigenous populations and minorities in communities that are vulnerable to disasters.  
“FIU is committed to addressing and helping to solve disparities that persist due to systemic racism,” said Howard R. Lipman, CEO of the FIU Foundation, Inc. “We are thankful for this partnership with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help eliminate inequities related to disasters and for their past strong support to bolster student success in the humanities.”