Three emerging scholars to visit UB’s urban planning department as part of university initiative to transform higher education

by Rachel Teaman

Published March 18, 2022

The Department of Urban and Regional Planning will welcome three early-career scholars whose research urges reframing of urban planning scholarship and practice. Scholars will arrive at UB later this month as part of the Visiting Future Faculty or VITAL program.

In sync with the tradition of the Department and School, the scholars bring interdisciplinary perspectives: Bi’Anncha Andrews of the University of Maryland-College Park, and Rashad Williams of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, are pursuing doctoral degrees in urban and regional planning while Ashley Gripper is pursuing a doctorate in public health. The three scholars are among 22 outstanding doctoral students visiting UB as part of a new university initiative to diversify faculty in higher education.

The Visiting Future Faculty or VITAL program is a three-year pilot program developed by the Office of the Provost and the Office of Inclusive Excellence to expose the nation’s top emerging scholars to research and teaching opportunities at UB, and to support them as the next generation of faculty. VITAL runs from March 28 to April 1.

“The VITAL program is about building relationships to foster the diverse universities we seek,” says Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence, noting such support is critical as the young scholars enter the final years of their studies. “As a flagship of SUNY, the nation’s largest comprehensive system of higher education, the University at Buffalo has a leadership role to play in driving forward these changes.”

Samina Raja, associate dean for inclusive excellence and professor of urban planning at the School of Architecture and Planning, says the program is in alignment with the School’s goal to advance critical scholarship in support of more inclusive, equitable, and just communities.

“The built environment disciplines, including urban planning, architecture and real estate development, have a troubled record of racism – in academia and the profession. We see the impacts of place-based structural inequities across the country, from inequitable access to high quality affordable housing to racialized health outcomes. Inequitable planning decisions compound burdens for people who are marginalized due to their identity and limited access to material resources. The scholarship of our 2022 VITAL scholars represents the future of building more equitable, vibrant and just places.”

Andrews’s research draws attention to displacement as a core challenge for urban planners, with a focus on its impact on Black women. Gripper, who will be defending her dissertation in April, works on the links between urban agriculture, healing, and the power of collective agency in Black communities. Drawing on radical Black traditions, Williams reframes how urban planning can dismantle structural racism through “reparative urban planning.”

Meet our VITAL scholars

Bi'Anncha T. Andrews, urban and regional planning, University of Maryland-College Park


Over the years, there has been a renewed interest in investing in historically distressed neighborhoods in the inner city. This economic escalation has contributed to increasing rates of displacement following redevelopment in forms commonly known as gentrification. As gentrification and displacement rapidly reshape neighborhoods across the U.S., low-income, Black, single mothers are forced to grapple with the rising cost of housing, the physical transformation of their communities, and the intentional displacement of their own families to make way for more affluent households.

"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.”

While low-income, Black women are arguably the most vulnerable to the social and economic pressures that accompany gentrification, single, Black mothers are understudies in gentrification scholarship; hence knowledge about their vulnerability, and outcomes during and post displacement, are unclear. In addition, few studies have considered the barriers that Black mothers face in accessing social services and informal social supports post-displacement.

Andrews' dissertation research aims to fill an established evidence gap on gentrification and displacement, including the impact that it has on single-family households and where families go post-displacement, and provide an in-depth outlook of the consequences associated with displacement and the residual trauma experienced by Black women during the displacement process. She says she seeks to generate a body of evidence that will improve social services, provide early intervention points that limit the number of vulnerable families forcefully displaced from their homes, and enable development of urban planning policies and practices that foster sustainability among individuals and households that are at risk when new development occurs.

Ashley Gripper, public health, Harvard University


Gripper's research is transdisciplinary and uses mixed methods to investigate the associations between urban agriculture, mental health, spirituality and collective agency within Black communities. She designed and is the principal investigator on a grant-funded, IRB-approved study that employs spatial, qualitative, epidemiologic and psychometric methods to understand these impacts.

“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

Her work highlights the historical and sociopolitical factors, such as structural and environmental racism, that have impacted and influenced Black agriculture in the United States. The first aim is a descriptive epidemiologic study assessing the association of neighborhood demographics with the number of community gardens at the block group level. This study shows that both Black and low-income neighborhoods have a greater concentration of community gardens compared to non-Black and higher income areas. This work serves as an introduction to the landscape of agriculture in Philadelphia and begins to lay the groundwork to understand how collective agency and community resistance might occur in the city’s Black and immigrant communities. The goal of her current research is to show City Council officials and the Mayor’s Office how urban agriculture benefits the health of residents

Rashad Williams, urban and regional planning, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities


Williams' research and teaching leverage oppositional social theory, particularly within the variegated areas of Black political thought, to satisfy three questions confronting the field of urban planning in particular, and perhaps the fields of urban affairs more generally.

The first concerns the extent to which a serious confrontation with the intellectual contributions of the Black radical tradition requires a fundamental reordering of the concepts through which we narrate urban histories and processes in the United States. Williams argues that the concepts of racial planning, the racial state and racial capitalism might, in certain cases, better reveal connections between race, class and urban planning than the standard, and somewhat obfuscatory, rational planning/equity planning or efficiency/equity model.

"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.”

- Rashad Williams

The second question concerns what can and should be done within urban contexts once we recognize the causal significance of white supremacy as a sociopolitical system and its enduring consequences for our primary areas of concern (urban inequalities in housing, environmental quality, transportation, wealth, policing, among others). In what is the first article on the subject of reparations within the field of urban planning, Williams has proposed that we begin to intellectually develop a tradition of reparative planning.

The third question concerns the evaluation of reparative planning as an unfolding movement across American municipalities and regions.

Scholars to engage with the campus and community

During their visit, the three scholars will engage with faculty and students across the Department of Urban and Regional Planning to present and discuss their research and scholarship, engage with community coalitions, and learn more about UB’s programs. Each scholar has been paired with a faculty member in urban planning to cultivate mentorship and support.

The VITAL program is also designed to expose the prospective faculty to the intellectual cultural and learning environments of the university and surrounding region. For example, the visiting scholars will tour research centers addressing relevant fields, including global health equity, food systems planning and inclusive design. Site visits across Buffalo will expose them to the region’s transforming urban landscapes and the community context in which they would work. Sessions are set for the scholars to meet with School leaders, hear from tenure-track faculty on “Navigating the Academy,” and meet members of the School’s Racial Justice, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

The School is hosting all 22 VITAL scholars to a tour of Hayes Hall on March 30, which will conclude with a public lecture as part of the School of Architecture and Planning’s Spring 2022 lecture series, presented by Yutaka Sho, a professor of architecture at Syracuse University. Other program-wide activities include opportunities to meet with UB leaders and faculty across the university, campus tours, and meet-and-greets with other students, particularly those from underrepresented groups.

The scholars applauded UB for their bold action toward equity for scholars 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,” says Bi’Anncha Andrews. “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.”

Added Rashad Williams: “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.”

According to Ashley Gripper, the VITAL program cultivates a network of support and an alternative pathway into academia. "The VITAL program will allow me to develop a range of mentors and collaborators with whom I can grow and learn.”

Stratigakos says VITAL scholars will receive substantial feedback on their work and become part of a new peer group at a crucial point in their academic career. The program will offer the scholars a chance “to recharge, feel valued and be inspired,” making VITAL alumni “ambassadors for UB for years to come.”

She added that VITAL creates just as many opportunities for UB faculty and students to build mentorship and networking relationships with diverse scholars from across the U.S., and to learn about emerging research in different fields. “Building those networks is especially important for historically underrepresented students at UB, who may not experience substantial diversity among their cohorts,” says Stratigakos, who also holds a professorship in architecture at UB.