Six-City Digital Equity Action Research (DEAR) Fellowship Launched

DEAR Fellows


Shaun Glaze (they/them)
Research Director

Colin Rhinesmith (he/him)
Benton Senior Faculty Research Fellow

Six-City Digital Equity Action Research (DEAR) Fellowship Launched
First-of-its-kind fellowship targeting digital inequities

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University, and Black Brilliance Research Project (BBR) launched the six-city Digital Equity Action Research (DEAR) Fellowship. The DEAR Fellowship is a participatory action research program for young adults, ages 19-24, that helps examine how digital inclusion coalitions understand and address the root causes of digital inequities in their communities. The fellowship started in November and will conclude with a celebration and community event in mid-January.

As part of this initiative, one organization in each participating city—Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Long Beach, San Antonio, and Seattle—will take part in the fellowship and host one young adult to serve as their Benton DEAR Fellow. The fellows and their host organizations receive a stipend for their work on the project over a two-month period. The end goal is to increase the skills and capacity for communities to identify and address the root causes of digital inequities while learning from peers around the United States. The fellows will do this through learning new participatory action research skills, an approach that brings together advocacy and research methods to create change.

“We are proud to launch this effort in collaboration with two research institutions, Black Brilliance Research Project and the Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University,” said Adrianne Furniss (pronouns: she/her), Executive Director of the Benton Institute. “We will continue to invest in research that aids data-driven policy decisions. We also understand the importance of participatory and community-led work in striving for a more just world.”

The digital equity team of BBR is led by Research Director, Shaun Glaze (pronouns: they/them) and Chris Webb (pronouns: he/him). Glaze’s expertise is Participatory Action Research and they facilitate dozens of community research projects advancing racial justice, particularly for Black, Indigenous, disabled, trans, and queer people of color. Webb is a Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Business (STEM-B) department faculty member at Seattle Central College.

Glaze said, “Participatory Action Research (PAR) centers the wisdom, leadership, and expertise of those closest to the issues. Doing this work well means disrupting systems of oppression and creating spaces where communities can explore — and create — their own solutions. By listening to those closest to the issues, we’re not just listening to the problems created by digital injustice, we’re co-creating the solutions we need for Black and Brown people to thrive.”

Colin Rhinesmith (pronouns: he/him) is the Director of the Community Informatics Lab in the Simmons School of Library and Information Science and a Senior Faculty Research Fellow with the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. Rhinesmith said, “The DEAR Fellows are working to share their vision of what digital justice looks like in each of their communities. I feel incredibly privileged to have this opportunity to learn from them and other members of our team while helping to facilitate our popular education workshops each week.”

Stephanie Martinez (pronouns: none) is a DEAR Fellow and co-designer of the DEAR fellowship. Martinez explained, “This fellowship means change for myself and the Black and Brown community. Not only does this opportunity enhance the knowledge of many young minds, but it also cultivates the gifts and talents of each participant, and creates liberating spaces where game-changing visions come into fruition. As a DEAR fellow and a team member of BBR, it has been an honor to learn, observe, and aid in this beautiful process as it comes to life each day. Youth leadership is essential to invest in because it gives us a chance to use our powerful voices, channel our focus on impeccable solutions, and break the barriers of effective communication, overall creating an unforgettable experience for this generation, and generations to come.”

Robert W. Deutsch Foundation is serving as a Baltimore partner on this project, supporting the fellowship funding for a DEAR Fellow at Village Learning Place. amalia deloney (pronouns: she/her), Vice President of the Foundation, said, “We’re longtime colleagues and friends of both the Benton Institute and Dr. Rhinesmith. When we learned about this innovative program, we immediately wanted to be supportive. We’re excited that Village Learning Place, whose work we respect, was chosen. We know that internet access is a precursor to social and economic inclusion and we’re happy that Baltimore, a city with 96,000 households, majority Black and Latinx, who lack internet, will benefit from the approach and thinking of DEAR.”

Fellowship partners include: Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, Black Brilliance Research Project, Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, East Cleveland Public Library, Long Beach Forward, San Antonio Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Village Learning Place.

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society: is a non-profit organization whose goal is to bring open, affordable, high-performance broadband to all people in the U.S. regardless of where they live or who they are. The Institute believes communication policy – rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity – has the power to deliver new opportunities, strengthen communities and ensure a thriving democracy.

Black Brilliance Research: BBR is a Black queer-led community research collaborative dedicated to changing the material conditions of the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. BBR’s goal is to explore and amplify community leadership and expertise. In 2020, BBR launched what is believed to be the world’s largest Black community participatory action research project, hiring over 100 community researchers from a wide variety of lived experiences with: racial injustice, incarceration, gender, education, immigration status, disability, language, age, religion, caregiving, national origin, healthcare, foster care, artistic expression, and professional research. Together with their local communities, BBR has been researching and implementing digital equity solutions through primary and secondary research and launching community networks in Washington State. BBR’s participatory action research and digital justice expertise offer DEAR fellows an opportunity to see themselves reflected in the leadership and direction of the work.

Community Informatics (CI) Lab at Simmons University: The CI Lab engages in digital inclusion research, practice, and policy to promote socially just and equitable communities. The lab is led by Dr. Colin Rhinesmith and is located in the School of Library and Information Science.

The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation: Founded 30 years ago, the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation (RWDF) invests in innovative people, programs, and ideas that improve the quality of life in Baltimore and beyond. The Foundation’s grantmaking focuses primarily in the areas of digital equity, community development, and arts and culture. RWDF believes the internet is a powerful catalyst for change; a job creator, an education provider, and a driver of innovation, creativity, and social change.

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