The University of Kentucky is partnering with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to establish a research initiative focused on education equity, civil rights and social justice.
The initiative, which will be housed in the university’s College of Education, will support the NAACP’s work in ensuring that all disadvantaged students, particularly students of color, have access to quality teaching, equitable resources and a robust academic curriculum, said university officials.
“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 Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, in a statement. “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.”
Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, who played a prominent role in the Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, will spearhead this new initiative. Vincent is the outgoing Grand Sire Archon of the Boulé, the nation’s first Greek-letter fraternity founded by African American men. The former president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges will also serve on the faculty.
“Through decades of struggle, we have evolved into a nation of laws and we built that foundation by saying that your rights have to be protected, not just in spirit but in word,” said Vincent in the statement. “Civil rights are for everyone and they enable us to bring our full selves to not just education, but also the workplace and beyond. Equitable access to education is a foundational need, and yet is still met with barriers.”
Vincent said that advancing and protecting education for all students in pre-school through higher education will be a focus of the initiative. It will put a spotlight on students who are marginalized in the education sector based on ability, gender, ethnicity, age, class, religion, sexuality and other markers. More specifically, the initiative has an ambitious agenda, including releasing research summary briefs and white papers on education issues at the local, state and national level, organizing anti-racism symposiums and workshops, and providing civil rights mediation support to local school districts and communities.
“Having a civil rights and education initiative at the University of Kentucky, where we have been on a year-long examination of our painful history of segregation, is especially meaningful,” said Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Education, in the statement. “It speaks to how far we have come, and yet how much further we need to go here at [the university] and across the nation.”
Heilig said that the initiative is one in a series of new diversity efforts, including the hiring of several prominent faculty of color.
University of Kentucky president, Dr. Eli Capilouto hailed the initiative as a game-changer for higher education.
“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,” he said in the statement. “That is why the [university’s] College of Education has spent the past year preparing to launch this initiative dedicated to pursuing a high quality and equitable public education system for all.”