We are pleased to share the 2023-2024 Social Justice Mini-Grant recipients!
These student leaders have shared innovative ideas for projects and programs that will prompt important discussion, reflection and learning for our community about racial, economic, accessibility, educational, and other inequities. We’re excited to share their projects with you and kick off the program year, all of which will meaningfully advance our shared efforts to advance the values of inclusion, belonging, and community citizenship for the Columbia community.
We wish to thank the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life for their generous support and partnership with University Life to fund the Social Justice Mini Grants program.
Access Granted: A Disability Justice Initiative Narrative Medicine Mini-Doc
Project Details: “Access Granted” is a mini-documentary project by a passionate team of Action Lab Students at The Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW). The project will give a meaningful platform to students with disabilities and cast light on their lived experiences navigating the unique CSSW environment. Through candid interviews, observational footage, and an investigative lens into the field placement journey—which includes addressing challenges of accessibility, unpaid internships, and commuting—the documentary will celebrate resilience, highlight systemic barriers, and foster a discourse on necessary reforms for inclusivity and equity. The film will lay the groundwork for what an inclusive and equitable Columbia would look like, imagining a campus culture that embraces accessibility and diversity, as envisioned by those who identify as disabled at CSSW.
Saanya Advani (she/her) is a second-year Masters in Social Work (MSW) candidate at CSSW, specializing in contemporary social issues. She has a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice from Michigan State University. Saanya is interning at the Action Lab for Social Justice and focuses on creating programs for BIPOC and economically under-resourced students. Her interests include healing from violence, community organizing for social justice, and exploring intersecting oppressions. In her free time, she co-leads The SWEET Caucus, a student group prioritizing self-care and bonding at CSSW.
Madeline Mueller is an advocate for neurodiversity. After an autism diagnosis, she began her advocacy through a TikTok initiative that connected with over 30,000 people. The platform became a catalyst for her involvement in various advocacy projects and initiatives, deeply influencing her trajectory as a MPH/MSSW student at the Mailman School of Public Health and CSSW. She is involved in the Columbia Student Disability Network, contributed to organizing the first disability affinity graduation, works as a research assistant for a study on autistic burnout, and is a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities (LEND) Fellow at the Stony Brook School of Social Welfare. Madeline has designed countless disability and neurodiversity resource guides, educator trainings, and more for the Columbia community and beyond. Her ambition is to foster inclusive, neuroaffirming environments and to offer neuroaffirming and psychedelic therapy.
Asian Gender Equity: See the Injustice, Say the Injustice
Project Details: This project will bring together an artist and a green developer for a panel discussion to spotlight the prevalent injustices Asian women face. By juxtaposing their personal narratives, careers, and emphasis on gender inequity, we’ll connect the Columbia community to the impact of visual art and investing. The project will amplify the voices of Asian women and invite the whole Columbia community to both ‘see’ and ‘say’ the injustice before us.
Irene Ailin Wang (she/they) is an artist, activist, and a student at the School of General Studies majoring in Visual Arts with a concentration in Gender Studies. Before attending Columbia University, she worked in venture capital as a managing partner for several years. Carrying these professional experiences, she founded the Waave Foundation, a non-profit organization that empowers women and non-binary individuals through the arts. Irene is dedicated to bringing a unique blend of financial insight and artistic sensitivity, aiming to be a transformative influence in her journey to venture philanthropy.
Symposium on Intersectionality and Caste
Project Details: April is widely celebrated as Dalit History Month in commemoration of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's birth anniversary. In this context, the symposium will attempt to focus on broader issues of caste-based discrimination and their intersections with various other forms of oppression, such as gender, religion, race, and socio-economic factors. Structured as a series of panels, the project will provide a platform for educational discussions, presentations, and dialogues. The panels will feature a diverse range of speakers, including scholars, activists, and individuals with lived experiences.
Sai Priya Kodidala (she/her) is a second-year Master of Public Administration student specializing in international finance & economic policy and data analysis & quantitative analytics at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). A social impact professional and an award-winning writer, she is interested in impact finance focusing on education, sustainability, and social justice. She is the founder of the The Telugu Archive, a digital archive which traces Telugu literature, history and art from religion, caste, and gender.
Before attending SIPA, she led multiple large-scale social impact and sustainability consulting projects in India across sectors such as education, healthcare, agriculture, and public finance. She is the Co-President of the Columbia Impact Investing Initiative (Ci3) and won the Best Due Diligence Award at Wharton for presenting a sustainable food startup. She is also a scholar at the Center of Public Research and Leadership at Columbia Law School.
Faithfully Free: Exploring Queer Spirituality
Project Details: This project seeks to unravel the multifaceted layers of identity, provide a platform for voices that are often overlooked, and support students in embracing their own multifaceted identity. Together, Halil and Mariam will create a magazine of personal profiles, artwork, and research that explores the confluence of religion and sexuality. The magazine will also include an advice column and connect readers with like-minded communities through a "Clubs to Join'' and resources section. The magazine will encourage open discussions, radical acceptance, and unity in our diverse university community.
Halil Cenker Camci (he/him) is a junior majoring in Econ-Math and Psychology in Columbia College (CC), and is from Istanbul, Turkey. Cenker is currently serving as a Multicultural Affairs Student Coordinator, the Co-Chair of the International Student Advisory Board (ISAB), the Coordinator of the Global Ambassador Program, and the Vice-President for Equity on Columbia College Student Council’s Executive Board. He is passionate about promoting intersectionality in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives, and wants to create spaces for students with intersecting identities to find community.
Mariam Jallow (she/her) is a junior at CC studying history and political science. Mariam has served as a two-time Class President of the Class of 2025 and Vice President of Finance on the Columbia College Student Council, with a focus on financial equity for students. She interned for the Urban Justice Center on the Free to Be Youth Project, an effort to interrupt the cycles of poverty and criminalization that prevent LGBTQ+ youth from living fulfilling lives free from discrimination, abuse, and oppression. Through these roles and personal experiences, Mariam has learned about how to take an active leadership role in encouraging others to advocate for themselves and their own multifaceted identities.
Griot: Archiving the Black Experience at/by/beyond the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Project Details: This project will historicize the Black student experience at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) over the past 50 years and document the school’s relationship with Harlem, as told through the eyes of Black students. In 2021, Columbia GSAPP admitted the largest population of Black students since the 1970s. In both instances, a major swell in Black student demographics followed national calls for institutional racial reckoning, precipitated by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. This May, a majority of Black students who entered GSAPP in 2021 will graduate, bringing the Black demographic back down to an inappreciable low. This project will preserve GSAPP’s Black history through an online video archive.
Kelsey Jackson (she/her) is pursuing a Master in Architecture at GSAPP. After earning her B.A. in Interior Design in 2014, she spent six years in Madrid, Spain, becoming deeply engaged with self-directed education. She has a special interest in analyzing the roles that culture and the built environment play in how individuals and communities learn, develop, and interact. Through her work with the Black Student Alliance, Kelsey is dedicated to helping her peers access the resources, support, and community they need as they navigate their time at GSAPP and beyond.
Jennah Jones (she/her) is a third-year Master of Architecture candidate at GSAPP and the President for the Black Student Alliance at GSAPP. Her approach to architecture is informed by her background in product design, a discipline that prioritizes ethnographic research and community-centered design. She’s passionate about environmental justice and biomaterials, and her projects often reimagine waste management through a generative justice lens. Jennah currently works as a waste consultant at the Center for Zero Waste Design. Previously she has held design research positions at Julia Watson LLC, the Natural Materials Lab at Columbia GSAPP, and BlocPower.
Fukunda Mbaru (he/him) is pursuing a Masters in Business Administration and a Masters of Science in Urban Planning at the Columbia Business School and Columbia GSAPP. He previously worked as a principal at Actis, a leading global growth markets investor and as an investment banking associate at J.P. Morgan.
Is It All About Money?
Project details: This project will explore financial inequality at Columbia and provide practical insights into how students can improve their financial well-being. Does our attitude towards money, as well as our academic and professional choices, influence the financial well-being of our community? How can we mitigate these inequalities on a personal level? Can we draw on the experience of well-known historical figures to build a healthy outlook towards money? In this podcast, we discuss these questions with undergraduate and graduate Columbia students, professors, and alumni. We will take a communal approach to improving financial well-being, through better understanding and self-discovery.
Leonidas Taliadouros (he/him) is a second-year Ph.D. candidate in Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and a member of the Stochastic Engineering Dynamics Lab. His research focuses on how quantum computing can improve how we manage uncertainty in complicated systems. Prior to joining Columbia, he graduated with a Master of Engineering degree in Civil Engineering from National Technical University of Athens in 2022.
GreenCoast: Uniting Sustainability and Environmental Justice from East to West
Project Details: GreenCoast is a groundbreaking podcast dedicated to exploring and advocating for sustainability and environmental justice issues across the East and West coasts of the United States. The show aims to bridge geographical and cultural gaps, uniting communities through discussions that focus on ecological initiatives, environmental challenges, and solutions in both coastal regions. The project aims to facilitate progressive discussions with passionate environmental advocates to inform, inspire, and mobilize action toward a greener, more equitable future.
Kristen Dillard (she/her) is pursuing a Masters in Sustainability Management at the School of Professional Studies. She holds a Bachelor's in Sociology and Environmental Science from Barnard College. Her studies explore how society operates and the impact on the environment. Kristen founded EarthCurl Organics, a natural hair care business. Beyond her commitment to sustainable hair care, Kristen aspires to empower people of color by demystifying environmental education and activism. Her goal is to broaden accessibility to these topics, fostering awareness and knowledge among a diverse audience.
On the Outside Podcast
Project Details: On The Outside is a podcast that provides a space to talk about all of the ways we’ve been made to feel left out. Whether it was on the playground or at a party or in a recent Supreme Court ruling — there are ways both big and small that we are made to feel like outsiders, all of us. Through this podcast, Taylor Rae Almonte hosts a series of vulnerable conversations exploring belonging.
Taylor Rae Almonte-Roman (she/her) is a Brooklyn-based host, creator, athlete, and activist. Her social impact work meets at the intersection of racial justice and wellness. Career highlights include presenting the Reebok Human Rights Awards, a feature on the cover of SELF magazine, and co-authoring ACTIV-ATING: Your Vocabulary, a book on having tough conversations about race and racism. Taylor is pursuing her Masters in Human Rights at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Her thesis focuses on the Eighth Amendment right that protects all from cruel and unusual punishment in America and what this means for incarcerated populations, especially those in solitary confinement who are denied access to outdoor physical activity. Most recently, Taylor became the Assistant Director at Just Ideas, a program that brings together Columbia professors and interns to teach occupants of Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center. Taylor also teaches a course at Taconic Correctional Facility as part of the The Justice-in-Education Initiative.