Our Mission

IRISE is designed to provide opportunities and support for faculty and students to engage in the development of cutting edge interdisciplinary research on issues of inequality, social justice, and inclusivity  through community engaged projects in health and education.  

We develop, support, and implement academic programs and activities that promote the advancement of historically underrepresented populations at DU.

Not Everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

James Baldwin
James Baldwin
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Our History

The Interdisciplinary Research Institute for the Study of (In)Equality (IRISE) was established in 2013 by the University of Denver to serve as an incubator for faculty and students to engage in the development of cutting edge interdisciplinary research on issues of inequality, social justice, and inclusivity.   Since then, IRISE has trained numerous postdoctoral fellows, sponsored impactful faculty and student research, scholarship, and professional development, and hosted numerous visiting scholars, lectures, symposia, and conferences examining multiple forms of discrimination and inequality in contemporary culture and life.  IRISE also supports both undergraduate and graduate students from marginalized backgrounds in programs that help them to become engaged thinkers and critical scholars in their own right.  In a short amount of time, IRISE has established itself as a prominent and essential institute within the DU community and beyond.

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Our Current Praxis

Beginning in the Fall Quarter of the 2017-2018 Academic Year, IRISE engaged with faculty, department chairs, on-campus institutes and centers, and off-campus partners toward identifying how its resources would be directed. In the Fall of 2017, IRISE conducted a series of focus groups with DU faculty and staff whose research and expertise connected with IRISE's initiatives. A guiding question for each focus group was "how could IRISE best direct its resources and priorities to meet its mission and align its work with that of DU Impact 2025. What emerged from these conversations was a recognition that DU could play a leading role in responding to issues of racial inequity, documented most prominently by the Rocky Mountain Public Broadcast Station (RMPBS) in its award winning Losing Ground report. 

IRISE is an effort to respond directly to many of the issues identified in the Rocky Mountain PBS Losing Ground Report. Our new initiative seeks to make IRISE a community-centered fulcrum that amplifies campus expertise, marshals interdisciplinary campus resources, and creates meaningful pathways for DU to partner with non-DU leaders and organizations to challenge systems and structures that lead to racial and social inequities. IRISE therefore seeks to equip our campus to partner with community agencies and historically marginalized groups and individuals in the collaborative production and application of knowledge leading to greater community inclusion.

IRISE ultimately expands the university's ability to work at the racial and political borderlands between and within historically marginalized communities to effectuate meaningful social inclusion.

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Who We Are

True to its interdisciplinary mission, IRISE has pulled together a group of scholar-activists from multiple disciplines in and outside of DU to be engaged in all aspects of our work.  These thought leaders bring distinct, valuable and critical visions of research, teaching, and service that enhance and contribute to the our understanding of (in)equality.


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Tom I. Romero

Associate Professor; Associate Provost for Inclusive Excellence and Curriculum Initiatives

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Marinka Swift

IRISE Associate Director

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Lynda Duran

Lynda Duran

IRISE Graduate Assistant for Student Programs

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Caris Fox

IRISE Program and Research Assistant

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Micaela Parker

IRISE Graduate Assistant

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Postdoctoral Fellows

  • Allison Bair, PhD

    Allison Bair is a social psychologist who received her PhD from York University in Toronto. She studies the social etiology of physical and mental health outcomes among stigmatized group members. She is particularly interested in how racial identity and the experience of stigma interact to produce beliefs, strategies, and behaviors that impact the well-being of the targets of stigma. As a Black Canadian with Jamaican roots she is aware of how racial and cultural contexts influence racial identity. She had the opportunity to examine this as part of her dissertation research. She was awarded an Organization of American States Research Fellowship to conduct research on racial identity and implicit racial attitudes in both Canada and Jamaica. This work is representative of her commitment to enriching the knowledge base that the Black diaspora can draw upon to strengthen their understanding of themselves. Her long-term goal is to develop a research program that can be used to inform interventions that maximize mental and physical health, resilience, social justice orientation, self-sufficiency, and a sense of belonging among stigmatized group members. In her leisure time, her biggest joy is the laughter and light in the eyes of her nieces and nephews. As an IRISE post doc at Denver University, Allison will be conducting research examining racial biases in psychological care recommendations.

  • Veronica Pacheco, PhD

    Veronica Pacheco is an ethnomusicologist specializing in ritual music of the Indigenous peoples of Mexico and other musical genres of Latin America and the Middle East. She received her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests include music and the politics of participation, collective performances of music as registers of Indigenous history, and the intersections of Indigenous sustainability and cultural rights. She directs two research initiatives in Mexico, “The Nahua Religious Music Project” and “The Urban Soundscapes Project.” At DU, Veronica will be working on the Spirituals Project at the Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies.

  • Jacqueline del Castillo, PhD

    Jacqueline is passionate about centering activists in social movement research and making good health possible for everyone. Her research focuses on the lived experience of activists and how health social movements aid health innovation and systems change. As a professional, she welcomes and seeks ways to collaborate with activists, funders and policymakers to strengthen movement organizing through the development of useful practical tools, evidence and theory. For instance, alongside completing a PhD at Imperial College London at the Institute of Global Health Innovation, she served as a Senior Fellow at the Blue Shield of California Foundation in 2019 advising a movement-building strategy to end domestic violence across California. From 2016-2018, while at Nesta Health Lab, a UK innovation think tank, she worked with colleagues to establish the first UK social movement incubation program, strategically support NHS England’s Health as a Social Movement program and produce two policy reports on social movements. In 2021, Jacqueline worked with non-profit leaders in Africa and Asia, sponsored by the UK Foreign Office, to devise a movement strengthening framework and disability activists through Action on Disability and Development to explore their needs for movement support. She also currently serves on the World Economic Forum Council on Equity and Social Justice as a Global Future Council Fellow (GfC) which advocates for embedding equity and social justice into wider economic transformation.

    Jacqueline has over 17 years of practical experience in health innovation, including launching new initiatives and managing service design projects in healthcare settings at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation and the Helix Centre for Design as well as designing affordable medical devices for newborns in low-resource hospitals at Equalize Health. Jacqueline has a MS and BS in Engineering from Stanford University where she trained in design thinking at the Stanford Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (‘d.school’). She has taught movement-building and design thinking at Oxford Saïd Business School, the Royal College of Art, Berkeley Haas Business School, Stanford University and Imperial College London. In 2018, one of Jacqueline’s movement-building workshops spawned a new research programme on “Movements of Movements” at Oxford Saïd Business School. As a boundary-spanner, Jacqueline believes in joining people across cultures, fields and invisible borders. You might find her taking portrait photographs, making things, hiking in the mountains and perusing art in the RiNo District.

  • Denisse Solis

    Denisse Solis is a Residency librarian. She will rotate through various library departments her first year before selecting a home department and partner with the Interdisciplinary Research Institute for the Study of (IN)Equality (IRISE) on specific projects. She holds a Master's of Library and Information Science from Kent State University and holds several committee appointments in professional organizations such as the American Library Association (ALA) and REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking to support equity, diversity, and inclusion. She is also an editorial board member for the open access journal, In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Her work focuses on linguistic diversity and equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) issues in librarianship stemming from personal and professional experiences as a Spanish speaker, first generation college student, and first generation American of Nicaraguan descent.

  • Cheri Colter, PhD

    Cheri holds a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy from the University of Texas, Dallas. Her dissertation work analyzed the effect of neighborhood environment on academic outcomes in an area of concentrated poverty in south Dallas as part of a larger National Science Foundation funded quasi-experimental study. Following dissertation completion, Cheri led a successful advocacy campaign funded by the American Heart Association to address food access inequity in south Dallas.  Her research focus is neighborhood effects in health and education and urban policy analysis. At IRISE, Cheri is leading the Health Equity Community Exchange project.  Cheri also holds an MA from the Korbel School of International Studies in Global Finance, Trade and Economic Integration.

Visiting Faculty and Community Scholars

  • Hasira "Soul" Ashemu

    Hasira "Soul" Ashemu; born and raised in Northeast Denver, an East Angel graduate, receiving his college degree from the HBCU Howard University and later traveling the world where he would spend a decade of his life living in Africa raising his family in Ghana. Married to his African Queen Dawnyle Ashemu, he is known as Baba to four intellectually brilliant, artistic and humorous children; Maaja, Aingkhu, Chayse and Saari (with the oldest two enrolled in college). Hasira is a prolific writer, speaker, facilitator, communications professional who has been using his talents, experience and skills to create and support stimulating, engaging and innovative community initiatives that usher in social change. In addition, he has worked in the non-profit and governmental sectors in the United States and five African nations.

    Known as "H-Soul" by his harshest critics and beloved community; Hasira is a Community Organizer dedicated to the pursuit for social, equity, and education justice for society's most vulnerable children; Black, Brown, Indigenous, Special Needs and those living in poverty. Hasira "Soul" Ashemu is the founder and executive director/co-director of two grassroots organizations; #BreakingOurChains and #OurVoiceOurSchools respectively. Both organizations originated in Colorado and have built strong local and national platforms. The quote that pumps revolution through his veins and social justice in and out of his lungs is derived from Assata Shakur, "It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."

    Hasira "Soul" Ashemu launched the Righteous Rage Institute in spring 2020

  • Daniel Kim, PhD

    Daniel Kim is a social movement organizer and advocate based in the Denver area. Daniel has served as the Director of Youth Organizing at Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, a grassroots educational justice & immigrant rights organization in Denver that has led a landmark campaign since the early 2000’s to End the School-to-Jail Track, taking on the racist push-out and criminalization of youth of color in Colorado's public schools and implementing restorative justice. Trained as an organizer by the Labor/Community Strategy Center in 2001, Daniel has organized in schools and neighborhoods, on college campuses, and on the buses of Los Angeles to build the power of working-class communities of color to transform society. Daniel also has a background in university teaching and research (University of Colorado, Boulder) and in school district administration (Denver Public Schools).

  • Steven Yazzie

    Steven J. Yazzie (Navajo) is a multi-discipline artist working with video, painting, sculpture and installation environments. His professional career spans a long exhibition list of national and international institutions, most notably at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Museum of the American Indian, New York, NY; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada; the Museum of Contemporary Native Art, Santa Fe, NM. As a director of video and film production, he brings implicit technical and creative skillsets from the visual arts into new forms of dynamic and meaningful storytelling. As a Native artist and practitioner, and owner of Digital Preserve Production Company, his multidisciplinary art expertise is focused on leveraging Indigenous issues and voices. As an IRISE Community Scholar, he is addressing issues of inequality through the multiple mediums. Among developing connections with the DU IRISE community, he is also working with Drs. Ramona Beltrán and Debora Ortega on the Our Stories, Our Medicine Archive (OSOMA) project to direct video production and aesthetic development of the archive. He is bridging the art/science divide by bringing different eyes to health, education, and social outcomes in Indigenous communities and is teaching the OSOMA team how to use different lenses (literally and figuratively) to explore, excavate, and represent these issues. (photo credit: Mark Woolcott).   Visit Steven's website.

  • Cheryl E. Matias

    Dr. Cheryl E. Matias is an Associate Professor in the School of Education & Human Development (SEHD) at the University of Colorado Denver. Her research focuses on race and ethnic studies in education with a theoretical focus on critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, critical pedagogy and feminism of color. Specifically, she uses a feminist of color approach to deconstruct the emotionality of whiteness in urban teacher education and how it impacts urban education.

    Her other research interest is on motherscholarship and supporting woman of color and motherscholars in the academy. A former K-12 teacher in both South Central, Los Angeles Unified School District and Bed-Stuyvesant, New York City Department of Education, she earned her bachelors in cultural communication from University of California San Diego, teaching credential at San Diego State University, and her masters in Social and Multicultural Foundations at California State University, Long Beach.

    She earned her doctorate at UCLA with an emphasis in race and ethnic studies in education. She delivers national talks and workshops on whiteness, racial justice, and diversity. She was awarded the 2014 American Educational Research Association's Division K (Teacher Education) Innovations in Research on Diversity in Teacher Education Award and the 2015 and 2017 Colorado Rosa Parks Diversity Award. In 2015, she was awarded Excellence in Research by the School of Education & Human Development at University of Colorado Denver. In 2016 she was awarded the university's 2016 Graduate School's Dean Mentoring Award.

    Some of her publications can be found in Race, Ethnicity, and Education, Teacher Education Quarterly, Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, Equity and Excellence, Journal of Teacher Education and Multicultural Perspectives. Her first solo-authored book entitled Feeling White: Whiteness, Emotionality, and Education earned the 2017 Honorable Mention for the Society of Professors of Education. Her second book, Surviving Becky(s): Pedagogies for Deconstructing Whiteness and Gender, is set to come out spring 2020. She is a mother of three, including boy-girl twins, an avid Lakers fan, and Bachata ballroom dancer.

    Visit Dr. Matias' website for more info about her work.

  • Johnny C. Ramirez, PhD

    Johnny received his PhD in Education with a specialization in race and ethnic studies at UCLA Graduate School of Education and a Master of Arts in Chicanx Studies at California State University, Northridge. His research interests span the areas of Chicanx-Latinx school pushout, youth resistance, Positive Youth Development (PYD) and Critical Race Theory (CRT)/Latina/o Critical Race Theory (LatCrit) in Education. His passion for community-engaged research and critical pedagogical approaches derive from his personal experience as a low-income Chicano pushout, first-generation community college transfer student who had a transformative experience when introduced to Chicanx Studies and student activism.

    Dr. Ramirez was Postdoctoral Fellow from 2018-2020 and is now Visiting Faculty for 2020-2021.  He works in partnership with GRASP (Gang Rescue and Support Program) on both research and youth programs.

Affiliated Faculty

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Our Partners

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Our Family Tree

Get a glimpse at our roots. Learn about all the amazing people that have contributed to IRISE in the past.  

See Our Family Tree