Two faculty in the School of Education at Virginia Tech have been recognized nationally for their work in anti-racism.
Chase Catalano, an assistant professor of higher education, and Rachelle Kuehl, a research scientist in rural education and VT School of Education alumna, recently received awards from the Spencer Foundation, which is a leading funder of education research since 1971. Among its core commitments are equity, collaboration, and transformation.
For the past several years, the topic of anti-racism has drawn increased attention in the American education system. Aside from the subject of banning books or debating Critical Race Theory, many institutions and companies are looking inward at how they might be contributing to systemic oppression. Part of this move forward is due to the amplification of funded research to understand biases and how they negatively impact the lives of historically marginalized populations, specifically Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people of color.
Catalano received a $50,000 grant to host a research conference in the summer of 2023 that will focus on the role LGBTQ+ centers can play to address racial equity on college campuses. It will provide an opportunity for practitioners and scholars to collaborate on advancing a research agenda about racial equity and justice in higher education.
His project is titled, “Racial justice and anti-racism work in LGBTQ+ centers: Creating a shared vision with scholars and practitioners.”
“Our hope is to bridge the singular identity isolation students at higher education institutions often experience, because many students do have intersecting identities,” he said.
Additionally, “the goal is to bring together scholars and practitioners to talk about what strategies, tactics and ideas and programs they have around doing anti-racist work in LGBTQ+ centers,” Catalano said. “Historically, cultural centers are singular identity based.”
This means that though some of the community spaces are coded as white, the student populations are filled with people who have multiple identities, especially LGBTQ+ students of color.
Nationwide, LGBTQ+ resource centers provide essential services to college campuses and communities with programs and resources that support LGBTQ+ students and allies’ health care access, academic and psychosocial support, and advocacy. This includes Virginia Tech’s own LGBTQ+ Resource Center.
Catalano’s experiences and insights as a director of the LGBT Resources Center at Syracuse University, prior to joining Virginia Tech, have contributed to his sustained interest and scholarly pursuits to advance LGBTQ+ equity work.
Kuehl received a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, which is given to 25 early career scholars each year who are working to advance educational research. The $70,000 fellowship includes three professional development retreats led by senior scholars in the field.
Kuehl’s project, “Enacting an anti-racist critical literacy pedagogy in rural places: How Appalachian teachers engage students in the interrogation of whiteness” will involve working with eight K-12 teachers in rural Appalachia to develop and implement language arts units taught through an anti-racist lens.
“In the current political climate, it has become increasingly difficult for teachers who recognize the need to approach teaching from an anti-racist point of view to find ways to engage students in thinking critically about race and racism because there is a very real fear of negative reactions from members of the community,” Kuehl said. “Still, the very fact that terms like critical race theory have become so politicized and polarized demonstrates why continuing to foster anti-racist values in the classroom is imperative. Because context matters so much to educational research, I’m committed to finding and highlighting teachers and schools in this region who are managing to use literature to help students understand the true, systemic nature of racism and why it must be eradicated.”
Informed in part by her collaborative scholarly work with Amy Price Azano, director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Rural Education, Kuehl’s scholarship focuses on antiracist critical literacy, rural schooling, and equity in teacher education.
Anti-racist instruction needs to account for the specific local context in which it occurs, Kuehl said. Racial equity demands research on critical teaching practices conducted in specific rural areas and in this case, in rural Appalachia, she said.

By Mark Blane