What drove you to start the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy?
I was inspired to create the center based on both my research interests as a historian of the civil rights era and by the election of Barack Obama in 2008 as America’s first black president. This election changed the aesthetics of American Democracy in fundamental ways and offered a launching pad to understanding the nation’s narrative in new, challenging, and interesting ways.
How have you seen the Center play a role during 2016, one of the more tumultuous years on record?
The Center has been front and center, both on campus and in the wider public, of engaging in issues of race, civil rights, and democracy. At UT we’ve hosted several conferences on racial justice and public policy, the Black Power Movement; inaugurated a Black Policy Forum; organized two Black Lives Matter Symposiums; organized book talks by exceptional speakers, including National Book Award winning historian Ibram Kendi (whose Stamped From the Beginning should be read by every citizen) and the world famous public intellectual Michael Eric Dyson. Off campus, I have written more than 60 op-eds this year that, broadly, examine race and democracy at the local, national, and global level in outlets such as the Washington Post, Guardian, New York Times, Boston Globe, Reuters, and CNN.com.
What areas of research would you like to explore in 2017?
This year I’m hoping the CSRD can delve into issues of mass incarceration and the criminal justice system; oral histories chronicling the desegregation of UT, from athletics to students and faculty and staff; racial and economic inequality in the city of Austin; race relations in the state of Texas; and national discourse and policy of race in the Age of Trump.
What has been your favorite part about coming to UT Austin?
The City of Austin is a very interesting and challenging place to live. UT is a microcosm of both the benefits and challenges. The lofty ideals about justice, progress, and unity stand in stark contrast to our reality as the most economically segregated city in America. Racial segregation is rigidly demarcated in neighborhoods, schools, opportunities, zip codes, life chances. The positives are in the UT community’s ability to not just dialogue about these inequalities but to proactively take steps to rectify them and move forward toward a better future for us all.
How can students and faculty play a part in supporting the CSRD’s work?
The primary way to get involved is through attending programs and visiting our second floor offices at the LBJ School. Connecting with us through social media and meeting our fabulous team, Asilee Parkinson, whose our Administrative Associate, Paul Kuhne whose our technology specialist and webmaster, and Robert Arjet our GA. We our always looking for interested volunteers and new GAs as well. Spread the word about not just our existence, but our raison detre. UT is a world class institution and as such needs a center that can stand as the hub of research, policy, and programming on civil rights in the 21st century. We need your support to make this happen.