Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity tackles challenge of structural racism

Virtual launch Oct. 12 to feature roundtable with national experts

Adrienne Davis

The Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity (CRE²) at Washington University in St. Louis has debuted this fall with programs to support and amplify field-defining research, nurture the next generation of scholars and build partnerships in the St. Louis region. The work could not be more urgent, said CRE² founding director Adrienne Davis, who is also vice provost and the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law. 

“Long before the COVID pandemic and the killing of George Floyd and other Black people, we understood the price of structural racism,” Davis said. “Those costs are clearer than ever. Structural racism reduces life cycles, it collapses democracies, it foments violence. Structural racism, quite simply, prevents us from coming together and having fully functioning societies. This is our opportunity to forge a community to do the work that can lead to change.”

CRE² will celebrate its virtual launch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, with remarks by Chancellor Andrew D. Martin and Beverly R. Wendland, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, and a roundtable discussion with Jennifer DeVere Brody, director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity at Stanford University; Chandra Ford, founding director of the Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health at University of California, Los Angeles; Stephen Pitti, director of the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration at Yale University; Laurent DuBois, faculty director of the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University; and Darrick Hamilton, executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University. The public is invited to join the discussion here

In 2019, Martin announced the creation of the center, as recommended by the university’s Commission on Diversity & Inclusion report. From the start, Davis envisioned the center as a catalyst for collaboration among the 200-plus Danforth and Medical campus faculty studying issues related to race and ethnicity. That number will soon grow with the imminent cluster hire of 12 race and ethnicity faculty members.

“We have this immense bench of faculty — some of whom, like Gerald Early, have been here for a long time, and some of whom are fairly new, like our sociology faculty,” Davis said. “But we haven’t had pathways for them to work together. The center connects faculty so they can find new partners and perspectives for their work.” 

CRE² will provide grants large and small for research related to structural racism, including COVID-19, health equity, democratic citizenship, migration, justice and algorithmic bias. The deadline to apply for the second round of Colors of COVID special focus grants of up to $30,000 is Oct. 15. 

Other initiatives include the CRE² Research Workshop Groups, for scholars who want to dive deeper into a shared interest, and the CRE² Working Papers Series, for faculty who want feedback on their research. 

CRE² also will help amplify work to broader audiences, whether that means getting that research in front of lawmakers or CEOs. 

“Part of what distinguishes top universities is not just that they are producing new knowledge, but they are influencing policy at the local level and national level and international level,” Davis said. “They are not only knowledge leaders, they are policy shapers as well.”

Davis is especially excited about CRE²’s “Black Paper” initiative. A play on the term “white paper,” Black Papers will help local governmental agencies or community organizations study a pressing issue. Topics could address any priority from policing to immigrant outreach. 

“This is us saying, ‘What do you need? What is your priority?’” Davis said. “Then we’ll do what we do best — research. The center will recruit a faculty member to study the issue so our partner can make the best choice for the people they serve.” 

CRE² also will help graduate and undergraduate students build their research skills. Starting next year, CRE² will offer a research methods course and possibly a “Beyond Boundaries” class. The center also is accepting proposals for a graduate-level seminar that creates a lab-like experience. Davis wants to reach both students who came here specifically to learn from Washington University’s experts in race and ethnicity and those who didn’t even know they were interested in those topics. 

“What we are trying to do is inspire the next generation of scholars on race and ethnicity,” Davis said. “We want our graduates to be populating the departments at Yale and Harvard and the other premier departments as well as, of course, Washington University.” 

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