Faculty Input Sought for Proposed Center for Equality and Social Justice

By Gail Hairston

(Jan. 15, 2016) — A team of faculty from across campus have developed an initial proposal to create a University of Kentucky Center for Equality and Social Justice. 

Inspired and led by psychology Associate Professor Chrisitia Spears Brown with Robert E. Harding Jr. Professor of Law Melynda J. Price, the goal of the center is to create a space on campus to explore issues of equality and social justice from multiple perspectives, disciplines and research traditions. 

The genesis of the center comes at a time when institutions across the country are debating issues of equality, diversity and inclusion.

At UK, those conversations are taking place across the campus among faculty, students and staff, allowing for real opportunities for greater change. Brown, Price and other involved faculty believe the creation of such a center -- from colleges across the campus -- will further allow the university to harness the collective expertise of its faculty in driving positive changes for a more inclusive culture and society.

Late last semester, Brown and Price posed their idea to Mark Kornbluh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who responded with enthusiastic support. Kornbluh presented the idea to Terry Allen, interim vice president for institutional diversity, who offered his endorsement for efforts to develop the Center for Equality and Social Justice that would involve members of the UK community, colleges and departments from across the campus.

UK faculty are now invited to review the collaborative efforts of Brown and Price at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, in the Alumni Gallery of William T. Young Library. (http://uknow.uky.edu/content/center-equality-and-social-justice-proposal-0). This initial proposal is a starting point for further discussions and as part of a process to reach out to faculty, staff and, ultimately, students across the campus to be involved in the potential center.

The center’s premise is the “urgent need for high quality scholarship from a diverse set of disciplines and viewpoints addressing the causes, consequences and possible solutions to continued social inequality.

“That scholarship then needs to be translated for policymakers and legal experts, so that research can more effectively shape how social justice is enacted,” wrote Brown and Price in the recommendation for a center.

"A multidisciplinary approach to issues of social justice and equality involving faculty, staff and students from every corner of the campus speaks to who we are and what is distinctive about UK as a flagship, land-grant institution," said Tim Tracy, UK provost. "Only a community like UK can examine these issues in all their complexities and dimensions and bring people together in a way that both discusses and upholds our values."

The proposal recognizes the need for improved dialogue with the campus at large and the local and state community to better improve how scholarship is conducted with the goal of greater social justice for community members. 

It also recognizes that UK is uniquely positioned in the Commonwealth with existing strengths to study and offer solutions addressing inequality and promoting social justice on the basis of race/ethnicity, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, religion, and class.

Consequently, a primary goal of the center will be to facilitate connections and foster dialogue between individual scholars, programs, centers and departments already established at UK.

"The concept of establishing a University of Kentucky Center for Equality and Social Justice supports our institution’s values and strategic objective to enhance diversity and inclusivity, and to become an institution that is welcoming and mutually respects the contribution of every member of our community," said Allen. "Ultimately, the benefit has far reaching potential for everyone, particularly populations often marginalized."

The proposal endorses collaboration with the Martin Luther King Center, the Center for Research on Violence Against Women, the Office of Policy Studies on Violence Against Women, the Center for Poverty Research, and Quantitative Initiative of Policy and Social Research as well as other programs and departments focusing on inequality and social justice throughout the university.

"There are so many outstanding faculty and students at UK doing critical work in the pursuit of equity and social justice for everyone. This center will recognize, support and encourage that innovative work, and will foster connections between faculty, students and the community," Brown said. "As a society, equal rights for all is still a dream deferred, and we need the brightest and most thoughtful minds working together, each bringing their own voice and perspective, to achieve true social justice. The goal of the center will be to facilitate that pursuit."

"This type of center would put UK at the forefront of both interdisciplinary research in this area and socially engaged scholarship," Price said. "Dr. Christia Brown’s past research and current leadership on this project is the first signal of the good work to come. As a university, we train students for various professions, but also as importantly, we produce strong citizens. This center’s aim to merge the research and service goals of the university will only benefit students and the Commonwealth in the long run."

The proposal outlines the future potential for colloquia, a speaker series, a scholar-in-residence, graduate and undergraduate student fellowships, graduate and undergraduate courses, mini-grants, workshops, and community engagement. The Center for Equality and Social Justice would be housed in the College of Arts and Sciences with a multi-disciplinary, diverse advisory board of faculty, researchers and directors of related centers, programs and departments.

The board would also include graduate and undergraduate student representatives. Thirty faculty have already expressed interest in affiliating with the center, but hopes are to include as many as 20 more.

If you are a faculty member interested in joining the Center for Equality and Social Justice listserv then please fill out this google form: http://goo.gl/forms/A8HJHSF8J3.

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