University creates Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity

Davis to serve as founding director; will ‘facilitate collaborative research at the highest levels of rigor and impact’

Chancellor-elect Andrew D. Martin and Vice Provost Adrienne Davis at the opening event for the Day of Discovery, Dialogue & Action. (Photo: Washington University/Joe Angeles)

During remarks at Washington University in St. Louis’ fifth annual Day of Discovery, Dialogue & Action, Chancellor-elect Andrew D. Martin announced Feb. 20 the creation of a universitywide Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity.

The new inter- and transdisciplinary center will bring synergy to research already underway in these areas throughout the university — on the Danforth and Medical campuses — and be a driving force for further scholarship and collaboration.

“The Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity will promote path-breaking research that deepens knowledge and shapes national dialogue; facilitate student learning; and provide an infrastructure for our faculty members to engage in public discourse and policy design both locally and regionally,” Martin said.

The center also will support student research, especially in the fields of Asian-American, Latinx and comparative race and ethnicity studies; attract visiting scholars; and create opportunities for collaboration among Washington University faculty, students and members of the St. Louis community.

The center is an outgrowth of extensive planning and evaluation conducted by a 23-member task force that was formed as part of the work of the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion.

The commission was a major two-year undertaking to implement the Steering Committee for Diversity and Inclusion’s 12-point universitywide action plan for enhancing diversity.

To assess the benefits of creating a center, the task force drew on faculty and student focus groups; exit interviews with former faculty members; and discussions with other key university stakeholders, including the Institute for Public Health; the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics; and school-based centers such as the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies and the Collaboration on Race, Inequality, and Social Mobility in America in the Brown School, and the Center for the Humanities and the Department of African and African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences.

The task force overwhelmingly supported an assertive effort to better leverage the university’s strengths in such research areas as social, economic and health disparities. Read the task force’s 100-page report.

In his announcement in Hillman Hall, Martin highlighted the extensive consideration given to the task force’s recommendation. “The task force articulated a strong and compelling framing for the center. It is clear that a more cohesive and concentrated focus in the areas of race, ethnicity and equity will benefit not only our students and faculty, but also our local and national community.”

The center will formally begin its work during the fall 2019 academic semester.

Adrienne Davis, vice provost and the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law, will serve as the center’s founding director. Martin shared that Davis has devoted her career and scholarship to creating paradigms for thinking about race, gender and sexuality.

A leading interdisciplinary scholar in the areas of law, gender and race, Davis led the university’s 27-member Commission on Diversity and Inclusion and was also a member of the task force.

“As vice provost, she has strengthened the university’s efforts to recruit and retain an increasingly diverse faculty, staff and student body and enhanced our community and region through sponsored lectures, programs and courses that aim to uplift conversations around these issues.

“Adrienne is an excellent choice to serve as the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity’s founding director,” Martin said. “She will bring her relevant scholarship and strong leadership skills to help achieve the center’s primary goal: encourage, support and facilitate collaborative research and student learning in race and ethnic studies at the highest levels of rigor and impact.”

‘Formidable faculty tackling the issues’

Davis said the university is uniquely situated to become a leader in shaping both research and policymaking around issues of race and ethnicity.

“The St. Louis region continues to be at the fulcrum of the nation’s debates over race and structural inequality, and Washington University is situated squarely in the middle of the region,” Davis said.

“Because of ambitious and aggressive hiring over the last decade, the university now has a formidable faculty tackling the issues that comprise structural inequality, including disparities in health, education and economic opportunity; ever-shifting forms of discrimination and political exclusion; segregation in the built environment; and how race is represented in popular culture and the media.

“Members of our faculty are eager to translate their scholarly insights into concrete policy proposals and also to shape local, national and global conversations around issues of race and ethnicity, some of the most acute challenges of our time,” Davis said.

“I look forward to working with the university community, as well as the St. Louis community, to leverage our existing strengths and to become an academic force and a national research leader in the study of race and ethnicity,” Davis added. “It is imperative as the nation becomes more and more diverse.”

“Building stronger infrastructure around our scholarship in the areas of race, ethnicity and equity will not only deepen the impact of our faculty’s work, but it will also catapult the university forward as an important thought leader in addressing these critical societal challenges,” Provost Holden Thorp said.

“Adrienne Davis already has done so much to advance our diversity and inclusion efforts,” Thorp said. “Now, in assuming the reins of the center, she will help us take a next important step forward. Our faculty, our students and all of those who care deeply about matters related to race, ethnicity and equity will benefit.”

In addition to recommending creation of a center, the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion’s report suggested other key initiatives that have been implemented, including:

  • The creation, in 2018, of an Academy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which supports university faculty and staff with programming, training, events and other resources that aim to improve the campus climate of diversity and inclusion. Nicole Hudson, former deputy mayor for racial equity and priority initiatives for the City of St. Louis, was appointed assistant vice chancellor and inaugural leader of the academy.
  • The launch of a pilot grant that will help eliminate technology barriers by providing low-income first-year students a $500 grant toward the cost of a computer.

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