Visiting Future Faculty Program (VITAL)

VITAL is an exciting and rewarding four-day program that brings promising doctoral scholars from all disciplines to the University at Buffalo.

VITAL seeks to contribute to the growth of faculty from traditionally underrepresented populations in the United States, particularly from Indigenous, African American/Black, and Hispanic/Latinx backgrounds. VITAL scholars have the opportunity to present their work, engage with UB faculty and students, meet other scholars in the program, and experience the region’s many offerings.

The School of Architecture and Planning was pleased to welcome three VITAL scholars to Buffalo in March 2022 as they considered UB as a landing place for their teaching and research pursuits. 

2021-22 VITAL Scholars in Urban and Regional Planning

Ashley Gripper, Phd Candidate, Environmental Epidemiology, Harvard University

Ashley Gripper Picture.

Ashley Gripper

Ashley is an activist-scholar and current PhD Candidate in Environmental Epidemiology at Harvard University. Using spatial analysis and mixed methods, her dissertation explores the impact of urban agriculture on the mental health, spirituality, and collective agency of Black folks in Philadelphia. Ashley is a part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Policy Research Scholars program and is learning how to translate research into policy that supports community wellbeing. She is an active member of Soil Generation, a  Black and brown-led coalition of urban farmers, gardeners, and food justice activists. Ashley is the founder and director of Land Based Jawns, a spiritually rooted organization in Philly helping Black women and non-binary folks to reconnect and reunite with the land. Her organization provides education and training on natural agriculture, carpentry, self defense, and land-based living.

The racialized inequities we see in health, education, and income will continue to exist so long as there aren’t people from those communities in academic, decision-making, and policy-making positions. -Ashley Gripper

Ashley Gripper's goals as a VITAL Fellow

"The VITAL program will allow me to develop a range of mentors and collaborators with whom I can grow and learn. My work as a movement scholar will contribute diversity to the VITAL cohort by offering an alternative way to do academia. Over the past decade, I have been extremely active in food and land justice movements, expanded my advocacy work through policy, and strengthened the Harvard Chan School’s community engagement efforts through partnership development and research translation. I encourage my colleagues and stakeholders to expand how they conceptualize health, science, and knowledge to include community solutions to societal health problems. 

The racialized inequities we see in health, education, and income will continue to exist so long as there aren’t people from those communities in academic, decision-making, and policy-making positions. I believe my community-based scholarship, background in organizing and policy, and demonstrated ability to effectively communicate rigorous scientific research would contribute a different and diverse perspective the VITAL cohort."

Bi'Anncha Andrews, PhD candidate, Urban and Regional Planning and Design, University of Maryland

Bi'Anncha T. Andrews Picture.

Bi'Anncha T. Andrews

Bi’Anncha Andrews is a doctoral student in the Urban and Regional Planning and Design Program at the University of Maryland. Her research interests are focused on exploring the historic and present day impacts of displacement on vulnerable populations in gentrifying neighborhoods. More importantly, her work centers the critical roles that racism and sexism have played in shaping neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage with limited access to effective social services and social safety. Bi’Anncha works as a graduate research assistant for Dr. Willow Lung-Amam and the National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG). In addition to her academic work, Bi’Anncha also works as a front line, licensed Social Worker with the Compass Program at the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Washington. The purpose of her work has been to have positive effect on the social and physical environment in which people live their lives, bridge the divide between academia and local neighborhood-based planning, and influence policy and practices that bring equity, access and enhancement to the quality of life found in low-income, communities of color.

Scholars of color continue to struggle with gaining entry-level and tenure-track positions in academia, even after achieving all of the necessary requirements. We are taught early on, that we must work twice as hard as everyone else in order to have a fraction of the opportunities afforded to us as those nearly guaranteed to students who are not of color. While many institutions deny this fact, the boldness and bravery of the University at Buffalo to highlight it as a priority presents an exciting opportunity for students such as myself.

-Bi'Anncha T. Andrews

Bi'Anncha Andrews' goals as a VITAL Fellow:

"From a very young age, it was evident that access to opportunity did not extend to neighborhoods that were similar to the ones where I lived. These conditions were a result of the intentional human and capital disinvestment prevalent in many poor areas in the South. Against all odds, I now sit at the table of scholarship, giving voice to experiences largely unknown and ignored in academia and in the world. With a unique combination of real-world and academic experience, I will increase the diversity of the 2022 VITAL cohort by shining light on the real-world struggles and successes of students of color who must navigate systems and institutions riddled with adversity while pursuing advanced degrees."

Rashad Williams, PhD candidate in Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Rashad Williams Picture.

Rashad Williams

Rashad Akeem Williams is a PhD candidate studying black political thought and urban planning at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. His research and teaching explore the moral bases for corrective racial justice at the municipal level and the range of policies that might constitute reparations in the planning context. He holds a Master of Public Administration (Binghamton University, 2017) , an MS in Student Affairs Administration (Binghamton University, 2017) , and a BS in Communication Studies (State University of New York at Cortland, 2014).

The mission behind the VITAL program demonstrates that the University at Buffalo recognizes both the importance of research that critically engages the subject of social equity and that we have a duty to elevate the voices of our historically marginalized and underrepresented scholars of color.

-Rashad Williams

Rashad Williams' goals as a VITAL Fellow:

"As a Black scholar within the field of urban planning, and particularly as a scholar whose work has been profoundly shaped by the intellectual contributions of the forebearers of the Black Radical Tradition, I bring perspectives to the fields of urban affairs that have for too long been marginalized. My research and teaching critically engages what is elsewhere regarded as utopian thought and challenges students to think through the political implications and consequences of our conceptual tools insofar as they constrain or expand our normative prescriptions while also attending to questions of practicability."