UNITE Connecting UK Research with Community to Address Racial Equity

UNITE community panelists: (Top, left to right) Olga McKissic, Shameka Parrish-Wright, Donovan Taylor; (Bottom, left to right) Rosa Martin, Stephen Overstreet, Tiffany Clark.
UNITE community panelists: (Top, left to right) Olga McKissic, Shameka Parrish-Wright, Donovan Taylor; (Bottom, left to right) Rosa Martin, Stephen Overstreet, Tiffany Clark.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 23, 2021) — University of Kentucky administrators, faculty, staff and students engaged with a diverse panel of Kentucky community leaders to identify research priorities to address racial equity across the Commonwealth.

On April 15, a virtual event was hosted by UNited In True racial Equity (UNITE) — UK’s newest research priority area (RPA), which aims to support research focused on racial disparities and inequity and recruit and retain racially diverse faculty, staff and students at UK.

“Facilitating these important conversations is just one of the ways UNITE is working to bridge the gap between UK and people of color when it comes to research,” said UK’s Assistant Vice President for Research in Diversity & Inclusion Danelle Stevens-Watkins, Ph.D., who leads the RPA. “Connecting our researchers to communities of color is critical to identify research-informed solutions to address unmet needs in marginalized communities served by the university.”

During the first UNITE Listens panel discussion, the community leaders discussed how UK scholars can use research to address unmet needs in their communities and identified opportunities for partnerships with UK.

The panel was moderated by UK Assistant Dean of Equity, Outreach and Social Justice and UNITE Community Engagement Lead Camille Burnett, Ph.D.  Panelists included:

  • Tiffany Clark, office specialist for the Lexington Housing Authority
  • Rosa Martin, co-principal investigator and program director of the Corazones Saludables study at UK
  • Olga McKissic, executive director of the H.L. Neblett Community Center in Owensboro
  • Stephen Overstreet, founder of Our Park, youth advocate and a Health Disparities sub-committee member of the Lexington Mayor’s Commission for Racial Justice and Equality
  • Shameka Parrish-Wright, co-chair of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, manager of the Louisville Bail Project, and 2022 Louisville mayoral candidate
  • Donovan Taylor, UK Law alum, case/litigation specialist with Williams & Associates, president of the Chickasaw Federation and manager of The Plan Room, a business accelerator for Black and minority businesses

“We hope that this is just the beginning. This event provided a launching pad for further discussion on the role of UK in the community when it comes to issues of racial disparities and inequity,” said Stevens-Watkins.

Since it was launched in August 2020, UNITE has fostered a number of other initiatives and opportunities for collaboration to support diversity and inclusion in research at UK. The group is connecting faculty from multiple colleges across campus.

UNITE has initiated several collaborative research pilot projects, including partnerships with UK’s Igniting Research Collaborations (IRC) program, the Center for Health Equity Transformation (CHET), and the Substance Use Priority Research Area (SUPRA). UNITE also has upcoming pilot grant opportunities focused on research in the humanities and plans to fund research to enhance COVID-19 testing and vaccination in Kentucky’s racial and ethnic minority populations.

UNITE is also working to support a pipeline of diverse scholars, including supporting two Lyman T. Johnson Postdoctoral Fellowship Awardees beginning this summer.

All UK researchers are encouraged to join UNITE regardless of research area and expertise. Learn more at


The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.