Obituary: Garrett Duncan, associate professor in Arts & Sciences, 59

Renowned scholar of race and education theory

Garrett Duncan, associate professor of education and of African and African American studies, both in Arts & Sciences, at Washington University in St. Louis, died Dec. 8, 2020, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He was 59.


Duncan’s research explored issues of race, culture, education and society, with particular focus — through his “Schooling as a Moral Enterprise” project — on the education of Black students in urban and suburban schools. He published extensively on Black youth, identity, language and ethics, and frequently wrote and commented for national and international news media.

“Garrett’s coming to Washington University was a joint effort by both African and African-American Studies and Education that hugely benefited both units,” said Gerald Early, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and chair of African and African American studies. “His research, his teaching, and his community outreach were all immensely important for the development of AFAS.  He made us known and respected in circles that increased our stature. His ‘Black Adolescence’ course by itself was an enormous addition to our curriculum.

“He was a big, assertive guy with high standards and great humor,” Early added. “I thought he was one of the best hires I ever helped to make.”

Born in Oakland, Calif., Duncan grew up in nearby Hayward and earned his undergraduate degree in biology from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He then spent eight years teaching science in the Pomona public schools, where he was named 1992 Teacher of the Year, and also taught GED courses to incarcerated teenagers.

Duncan came to Washington University as a postdoctoral fellow in 1996, after earning his doctorate in education from Claremont McKenna College. Two years later, he was offered a tenure-track position, and in 2004, he was appointed associate professor. Over the years, he served as acting chair of education, as director of education graduate programs and as director of African and African American studies, among other roles, all while teaching both foundational and capstone courses.


A longtime interviewer for the John B. Ervin Scholars Program, Duncan was a mentor in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program and worked extensively with teachers in St. Louis-area public schools. He served on the executive board and as treasurer of the Association for Moral Education and as vice president for the American Educational Research Association’s Division G, which studies the social context of education. Other honors include the Chancellor’s Graduate Fellowship Mentoring Recognition Award and teaching awards from the university’s Association of Black Students, Women’s Panhellenic Association and ArtSci Council.

Related story: AFAS Honors the Memory of Professor Garrett Albert Duncan

Duncan is survived by his sister, Callie Redden; and his nephews, Clifton and Clayton Duncan. He also leaves behind many good friends, including Wilmetta and Samba Diallo and Jamal Sadrud-Din, as well as colleagues and former students.

A virtual memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31. To register, click here. In recognition of Duncan’s dedication to youth and urban education, memorial contributions may be made in memory of Garrett Albert Duncan to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Saint Louis.

Leave a Comment

Comments and respectful dialogue are encouraged, but content will be moderated. Please, no personal attacks, obscenity or profanity, selling of commercial products, or endorsements of political candidates or positions. We reserve the right to remove any inappropriate comments. We also cannot address individual medical concerns or provide medical advice in this forum.