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Looking at poverty in a new way

Risha Berry’s work with iCubed addresses structural inequalities, racism in Richmond

Dr. Risha Berry

Risha R. Berry, Ph.D.

The overarching goal of VCU’s Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation – known as iCubed – is to fulfill a promise made when VCU was created in 1967: to form partnerships between faculty and the community that solve urban challenges.

iCubed consists of five transdisciplinary teams of faculty, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scholars who seek to promote diversity and inclusion in research, scholarship and creative activity.

Dr. Risha R. Berry, iCubed visiting scholar in the VCU School of Education, was attracted to this initiative in large part due to her work with the country’s first Office of Community Wealth Building, which is centered around aligning resources in Richmond to directly impact those in poverty.

“With the Office of Community Wealth Building, we are hosting network focus group meetings to understand how service providers work with families along an economic mobility continuum from crisis to thriving. With the iCubed initiative, and specifically our work with the Social Justice Transdisciplinary Core, we can begin to delve more deeply into metrics that will demonstrate their movement toward economic stability,” she said.

“Infusing [a] holistic, two-generation model across education, policy and social work requires a new perspective and different ways of thinking, but through a transdisciplinary approach, we can achieve it.”

iCubed’s Social Justice Transdisciplinary Core – one of five iCubed teams – is charged with addressing structural inequalities and racism in Richmond communities and their impact on economic mobility, educational attainment and individual and family well-being. In addition to Dr. Berry, members include Dr. Nakeina E. Douglas-Glenn, assistant professor with the Wilder School and director of the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, and Dr. Jan Ivery, iCubed visiting scholar in the VCU School of Social Work and assistant professor with the School of Social Work at Georgia State University.

Berry said that the core will allow the team to look at structural inequalities from a fresh perspective – looking at the entire family as a unit of analysis, rather than the child or head of household individually.

“When developing strategies to end poverty, practitioners and policymakers may feel torn in deciding whether to focus on the child or the adult in a family. Two-generation strategies demonstrate that we can do both. If we wrap additional supports around the entire family, then you can’t help but wonder how much greater success we might see in the family unit as a whole,” she said.

“Infusing this holistic, two-generation model across education, policy and social work requires a new perspective and different ways of thinking, but through a transdisciplinary approach, we can achieve it.”

The Social Justice Core will develop innovative and impactful community based research with resulting scholarship to expand our collective understanding of the structural barriers to educational attainment, individual and family well-being, and their influence on economic mobility. The core is developing a prospectus that will be submitted to the Office of the Provost near the end of this year.