In February, 2016, President DeGioia announced a variety of steps that Georgetown was to undertake to address the US society’s legacy of slavery and Georgetown’s history of the sale of enslaved persons.
He named a working group of faculty, staff, and students from all three Georgetown campuses. In addition to building a new department of African-American Studies, located in Georgetown College, the group was charged with assessing the best way forward for a Georgetown Institute for Racial Justice, an institute that was a university-wide entity to coordinate existing scholarship in the area and catalyze new scholarship and related activities. The Institute, ideally, would have strong ties with the Center on Research on the Study of Slavery and its Legacies. The working group submitted its report to the president at the end of the academic year, summarizing months of work by devoted members. He approved the report, permitting the next steps in building the Institute.
The group had met with scores of faculty around the university to inform itself about interests in a possible new institute. In essence, the question was posed, “What attributes of an Institute for Racial Justice would make you excited about working with the Institute?” From these meetings, the group met many colleagues, on all three campuses, whose work is related to racial justice. There was real enthusiasm that Georgetown, at this moment in history, could build a uniquely impactful center of scholarship and community outreach.
From the meetings with faculty throughout the university, the working group identified multiple areas for potential activities of the Institute:
Disparities and Inequality (e.g., health, education, income, housing, employment)
What are the sources and dimensions of enduring racial disparities in areas, such as health, education, income, housing and employment? How should we understand the impact of family structures and environmental conditions on social and political outcomes? What are the long-term trends and future projections that define racial inequality in the United States? The working group met with many faculty who are actively tackling these questions.
Advancing Social Structures (e.g., legal, governmental, education systems, medicine, policy) What legal or political structures perpetuate injustice along racial lines? What proven solutions seem to work in areas such as education and medicine to alleviate the power of race as a determinant to community trajectories? How might areas such as banking and voting regulations be transformed to enable full participation in markets and elections? The working group found much activity in this area, notably, active scholarship, educational programs, and outreach activities on prisoners and justice system inequities.
Diasporic Conversations (e.g., immigration, reparation, inclusion/exclusion, assimilation) To what degree is the U.S. experience of race a national, a continental, or even a global phenomenon? How do cognate ways of perceiving and structuring the world, such as ethnicity and gender, intersect with the past and present? Under what conditions do other social groups and structures around the world, such as religion, become “racialized”? How can we understand and analyze the monumental cultural products of the African American experience and their connections to the struggle for justice?
Finally, the working group came to the conclusion that the Institute for Racial Justice could be a major institution in Georgetown’s outreach to the DC community. Faculty engaged in scholarly work that focuses on D.C., including health equity, arts, and legal work, were hopeful that the center would convene faculty in ways that would inspire new research collaborations that could have real practical impact on Washington, D.C. This could lead to cross-field collaborations for those interested in health, education, housing, and legal justice. Such a focus is completely consistent with the strategic goals of enhancing the service of Georgetown to the betterment of its local community. Further, Georgetown has a tradition of exploring challenging social issues from multiple perspectives and through multiple traditions, including arts, performance, and media. The center could support this work in several ways, including taking advantage of our D.C. location by hosting visiting performers. There seems to be great promise that Georgetown could develop a distinctive program in this area.
Finally, the group formed an alliance with those working on the Center for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies, created as part of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. Both groups believe that the efforts should be coordinated, and we are working cooperatively in forming the two entities.
In the coming months we will launch a search process (university-wide) for tenure-line faculty who will be joint appointments between the Institute for Racial Justice and an educational unit within the University. Next year a speaker series will host prominent scholars working in areas related to Institute.
This is a very exciting time at Georgetown. We have much work to do, but many of us sense that we can create a uniquely valuable resource for the university, the city, and the country, if we work together toward that end.