A time for action.
It is a phrase many across the nation are focusing on in hopes of improving racial justice. As the state’s flagship university, the University of Kentucky is taking tangible steps to make a difference in creating a more equitable environment both on and off campus.
UK President Eli Capilouto has appointed a 22-member leadership team made up of students, faculty ad staff to help guide efforts regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. In addition, a 10-member workgroup has been formed and is meeting multiple times a week to help facilitate what Capilouto called “the collective work of this cultural change.” The workgroup will focus on six major areas: faculty, staff and student talent; culture, policies and programming; facilities and finances; research; and community outreach.
The university has already proposed a five-year, $10 million commitment to sponsor UK research focused on racial disparities and inequity in areas ranging from health to the historical foundations of racism. (The initiative will require approval from the University Senate before moving forward.)
“We are a research institution. A critical part of our mission is finding solutions to the issues that challenge our state and our world,” Capilouto said. “Systemic racism over generations has inarguably impacted health and life expectancy, economic and financial standing, the educational attainment and success of Black people and persons of color over centuries. What we bring to the table is a world-class research institution with scholars and scientists who can work between and among disciplines to find answers to the most intractable of problems and what is fundamentally the issue that has simultaneously shaped and scarred a nation.”
The initial focus of the UNITed in racial Equity (UNITE) Research Initiative will be social and racial injustice, health disparities that are influenced by race, and promotion of health equity across races, ethnicity and gender. UNITE activities might include providing peer-reviewed seed funding for pilot studies, assessing and disseminating best practices for hiring and retention of a diverse faculty and students, developing a research day/symposia, and the creation of valuable common-use resources.
Some areas of UK have been working toward such goals for a while. For example, the University of Kentucky Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center (SCoBIRC) has been collaborating with UK College of Arts and Sciences for the past two years to increase the representation of Black undergraduate students in neuroscience. A result of the collaboration is the African American Research Training Scholars (AARTS) program, which provides five yearly research training awards funded by SCoBIRC for undergraduate students in neurotrauma research.
UK has also announced an agreement with the NAACP, the nation’s largest civil rights organization, to develop an education and research initiative focused on educational equity, civil rights and social justice.
“At the University of Kentucky, we understand the transformative power of education, and we believe that the struggle for social justice begins in the classroom,” said Capilouto.
“This is the first time the NAACP has locked arms with university-based scholars in the education field to help address the racial inequities that continue to plague our education system,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. “These scholars will partner with students, educators and communities to document the experiences of those facing educational disparities and use research to shape public policy. To see change, we must focus on discipline policies, school funding structures, college and career readiness initiatives, and our own great teachers in underserved communities.”
Capilouto has also proposed establishing a multidisciplinary program, the Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies, that would highlight UK’s growing research around issues of race and racism. UK is investing an initial $250,000 as seed money to leverage additional investments to help the institute move forward. ■