Fordham University has been awarded a $50 million grant focused on environmental justice, issued through a competitive grant process by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Fordham will serve as a grantmaker to community-based groups in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and will also fund the environmental research of its own faculty.

Fordham will receive the funds over three years, working with partner organizations to help uplift disadvantaged and hard-to-reach communities as well as those disproportionately affected by climate change, pollution, and other environmental stressors. Fordham is one of just 11 institutions nationwide selected to manage $550 million in federal funds earmarked for the program.

“Fordham University stands for impact on the world and finding solutions to the most urgent problems,” said President Tania Tetlow. “Fordham combines cutting-edge research with a deep connection to community, building on 182 years of engagement with the Bronx and expanding outward across the globe. This project embodies Fordham’s mission. We believe in the power of community-driven solutions to climate change to capture the insights and ingenuity of the people on the front lines of global warming.” 

Approximately $10 million of the award will be designated for the grantmaking operation and related programming, as well as for Fordham’s own research. Serving as the EPA Region 2 grantmaker for the project, called the 2023 Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Grantmaking Program, Fordham will allocate the remaining $40 million in subgrants ranging from $75,000 to $350,000 to foster various environmental justice initiatives. Fordham’s Center for Community Engaged Learning is leading the initiative, which will be directed by Julie Gafney, Ph.D., assistant vice president for strategic mission initiatives, and Surey Miranda, director of campus and community engagement.

Community and Academic Partners

The University is collaborating with key community and academic partners, including the New York Immigration Coalition, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, ConPRmetidos in Puerto Rico, Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, Business Initiative Corporation of New York, and several universities across the target regions. This collaborative approach will ensure a broader impact and integrate the University’s research and teaching with real-world environmental justice efforts. 

Communities will be able to apply to Fordham for a subgrant to fund a range of different environmental project activities, including small local clean-ups, local emergency preparedness and disaster resiliency programs, environmental workforce development programs, air quality and asthma-related projects, healthy homes programs, and projects addressing illegal dumping.

The Fordham grantmaking initiative—called Flourishing in Community—will support each subgrant with a Community of Practice group that includes faculty, community leaders, and graduate assistants, ensuring comprehensive support and maximizing effectiveness.

“This grant is the direct product of Fordham’s commitment to center environmental justice and sustainability in our public impact teaching, learning, and research. In Fordham’s Flourishing in Community Grantmaker Initiative, we created a transformative approach that offers a new vision of higher education: one that values community impact alongside cutting-edge research,” said Gafney. “Our initiative not only provides grants to disadvantaged and disproportionately impacted communities but also extends to comprehensive wraparound support, ensuring the sustainability and impact of these crucial community-led projects.”

The grant also underlines Fordham’s commitment to STEM curricular development, as well as the University’s engagement with communities as they respond to the most pressing issues facing our city and our nation.  

“We are grateful to have worked alongside our partners across EPA Region 2 to ensure accessibility to this much-needed funding for all,” said Miranda. “We aim to ensure that the most impacted communities can leverage the funding and technical assistance available through the program. This will help build their capacity and strengthen the work already taking place in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Lisa F. Garcia, EPA Region 2 administrator, said Fordham’s work with the agency “will be the start of a fruitful relationship that will build upon both EPA’s commitment to addressing climate injustice and Fordham’s promise of environmental stewardship.”

“As a grantmaker, Fordham University will help the EPA advance environmental justice in a direct way that will help to undo the past harms of environmental injustice,” Garcia said.

A ‘Transformative Opportunity’

Rafael Roger, president of Business Initiative Corporation of New York, one of Fordham’s partners, said the Flourishing in Community initiative is a chance to “begin addressing environmental issues that will improve the lives of millions of people.”

“This opportunity is transformative for our region and will bring justice to communities that have been marginalized,” he said. “While creating jobs and improving buildings is part of our mission, being able to add ‘improving the environment’ is a new benchmark.”

Amy Torres, executive director with the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ), said that “too often, New Jersey is the punchline in jokes about pollution, contamination, or hazardous waste. But for New Jerseyans who bear the brunt of environmental racism or who have been displaced by climate crisis, it’s no laughing matter.”

“As the state’s largest immigration coalition, NJAIJ is proud to be a part of the collaborative effort under Flourishing in Community,” she said. “Together, we will uplift the voices of those most impacted in EPA Region 2—in particular climate refugees, agricultural workers, and people displaced or harmed by environmental racism.”

Dee Baecher-Brown, president of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, said her organization is “honored” to be Fordham’s partner in this work.

“CFVI recognizes the significance and potential impact of this grant in advancing environmental justice and addressing the needs of overburdened communities, and is poised to employ our extensive experience and infrastructure to maximize the value of Flourishing in Community in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Baecher-Brown said.

Also in the Caribbean, Isabel Rullán, co-founder and executive director of ConPRmetidos in Puerto Rico, said that she and her colleagues would bring their own grantmaking experience to bear and “prioritize supporting underrepresented groups focusing on eliminating barriers that limit organizational development.”

Murad Awawdeh, PCS ’19, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said the organization is proud to partner with Fordham on its environmental justice efforts.

“This new funding from the EPA is an important first step in ensuring more community-based groups have the support they need to bring attention to and continue to alleviate the impacts of climate change, pollution, and other environmental stressors on immigrants, low-income communities, and people of color,” he said.

Those interested in learning more about the program—including how to apply for grants—can fill out this form.

For media inquiries, contact Jane Kidwell Martinez, Fordham’s director of media relations, at [email protected] or 347-992-1815.

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Jane Martinez is director of media relations and deputy University spokesperson at Fordham. She can be reached at [email protected] or (347) 992-1815.