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Subject: Daily Briefing: What's next for antiracism centers?
Good morning, and welcome to Wednesday, November 29. Beckie Supiano, senior writer, and Megan Zahneis, senior reporter, wrote today’s Briefing, filling in for Rick Seltzer. Julia Piper compiled Comings and Goings. Get in touch: email@example.com
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Good morning, and welcome to Wednesday, November 29. Beckie Supiano, senior writer, and Megan Zahneis, senior reporter, wrote today’s Briefing, filling in for Rick Seltzer. Julia Piper compiled Comings and Goings. Get in touch: email@example.com.
Defending antiracism centers
Given the conservative backlash against diversity and inclusion efforts on college campuses, running an antiracism center was almost always going to be controversial. But that has not been the only obstacle to starting up these centers — which often take up the framing of the bestselling book How to Be an Antiracist, by the historian Ibram X. Kendi — as our Calli McMurray reports.
While a handful of such centers have opened since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, plans for one at Pennsylvania State University were scrapped last year by its new president, who argued the center was not the best method for improving the campus climate. The decision was met with protest, highlighting and exacerbating divisions over how the university should work to create a better environment for Black students and faculty.
More recently, Boston University’s center — led by Kendi himself — was recently scaled back, raising concerns about both its vision and its management and refueling debate over the concept of antiracism.
So, where does this messy start-up phase leave antiracism centers? For her story, Calli spoke with half a dozen center leaders about their work and its future. They described interdisciplinary research projects, community partnerships, and public outreach — and underscored that there’s no quick fix to a problem as deeply rooted and far-reaching as racism. Calli shared additional insights from her reporting:
What one thing should everyone know about this story?
Antiracism centers are not the same as diversity, equity, and inclusion offices. The former is focused on confronting racism and dismantling its effects. These efforts most often take the form of multidisciplinary research, partnerships with community groups, and public engagement. Sometimes the focus is a single campus, like when a course syllabus is overhauled to include antiracist texts, and sometimes the focus is the broader world, like research on how the housing market disadvantages Black people. DEI offices, on the other hand, are designed to diversify and support the students, faculty, and staff on campus.
What two things surprised you when you were reporting?
One of the benefits of antiracism centers is that they provide a research home for scholars tackling race and equity questions from myriad angles. Antiracism research is a broad umbrella that includes people studying feminism, incarceration, reproductive health, climate change, history, education, and many other fields. And tackling racism isn’t the only goal: Academics in this space also see cultural preservation and community building as part of their mission.
What three questions are you still asking?
How are center directors planning to measure their success in the long term? What are administrators doing to help or hinder the performance of a center? How do students feel about the role of antiracism centers at their campus?
- Chapel Hill leaders want chancellor to stay: After word spread that Kevin M. Guskiewicz, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had been named the sole finalist for the presidency of Michigan State University — as The Chronicle reported last week — trustees, faculty, donors, and even a state legislator made personal appeals for Guskiewicz to remain in his current post. (The Chronicle)
- New graduate-student deal reached at the U. of Southern California: After more than six months of negotiations, the university and its newly minted graduate-student union agreed to terms Sunday, avoiding an end-of-semester strike. The union’s members count pay raises and increased protections against discrimination and harassment among the contract’s key provisions. (Los Angeles Times)
- Hearing coming up on pro-Palestinian student groups in Florida: Florida’s state-university system last month called on colleges to shut down their campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, after the SJP national organization expressed support for Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel. The University of Florida and the University of South Florida’s SJP chapters quickly sued on First Amendment grounds, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, respectively. Now, a federal judge has set a January date for a hearing on whether the University of Florida’s SJP chapter can keep operating while the suit winds its way through the courts. (The Chronicle, Florida Phoenix)
- A professor says Spelman College secretly raised his students’ grades, then fired him: Kendrick Morales, a former assistant professor of economics, says the Atlanta-based college bumped up the grades of upperclassmen who were set to fail two of his courses, even after Morales’s own curving of scores. When Morales complained, he alleges, Spelman fired him without offering a chance for appeal. (Inside Higher Ed)
One campus asks: Can e-scooters be safer?
E-scooters: We’ve all seen them, and perhaps even had a close encounter with one. But complaints about e-scooters being annoying have escalated to legitimate questions about safety, as a University of Michigan student died this past summer after the scooter he was riding collided with an oncoming car.
E-scooters’ presence on campus is nothing new. Micromobility companies like Lime and Spin brought their products to colleges five years ago, seeing a young, tech-savvy student population with limited access to cars as a prime market.
But uptake has been a series of “uphill battles,” as an executive at Spin told our Maggie Hicks. Near-crashes and fire hazards have prompted several campuses to ban the vehicles.
The partnership route wasn’t a resounding success. To try to smooth public perception, Spin deployed about 200 scooters on Virginia Tech’s campus, attaching cameras, accelerometers, and gyroscopes to some to gather more data on how the vehicles were being used. The company then passed its findings to a Virginia Tech working group that’s mulling suggestions for scooter-related policy and infrastructure changes. But nearly six months after the study was published, Virginia Tech hasn’t allowed rental scooters to operate on campus.
Now what? Spin says it’s used the Virginia Tech study to create an opt-in “campus ambassadors” program, through which it pays students to serve as representatives for the company by helping maintain the scooter fleet and encouraging their peers to ride safely. The company is also working on technology that would allow scooters to detect when a rider might be on dangerous terrain, such as gravel or a sidewalk, and direct them to a safer riding location. For their part, one expert says, colleges can offer educational programs, helmets, and physical improvements, like smoothing out bumpy roads.
Quotable: “There is like a nerve that cracks when you get on one. You’re just like, ‘I want to make bad decisions.’” — Livingstone Bond, a recent Virginia Tech grad who required stitches for an e-scooter accident during his freshman year
Quote of the day
“There is no reason why the fall semester should continue after Thanksgiving. None.”
James R. Jones, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University, offered this take on X about the academic calendar.
While ending the semester at Thanksgiving may seem like a pipe dream, several institutions have in recent years relaxed post-holiday expectations. Classes at Claflin University, for example, are only meeting virtually for the rest of the year, and a student senator at Hampton University recently polled her peers about doing the same. Operating virtually during the holidays, proponents say, would save students and faculty members a trip back to campus and cut down on burnout.
Tell us: Has your institution considered such a move? What do you think about Jones’s opinion? Do you agree? Disagree? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comings and goings
- Lizette Navarette, executive vice chancellor for the office of institutional supports and success at the California Community Colleges, has been named president of Woodland Community College.
- Janet Woodruff-Borden, interim provost and executive vice president at the University of Oregon, has been named senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
To submit a new-hire announcement, email email@example.com.
Daily Briefing readers are surely waking up gently, never frazzled, when this email lands in their inbox (of course you read it first thing), but how are they sleeping? Sometimes higher-ed stress creeps into all of our dreams. Today’s dream is a submission from Michael A. Moir Jr., an English professor at Georgia Southwestern State University.
“When I was a graduate student, I had the usual frequent academic-anxiety dreams — showing up for class without pants, trying to control a classroom full of unruly students who completely ignored my presence, pressing ‘save’ on the final draft of my dissertation only to have my entire hard drive memory-wiped — but as I got closer to completing my Ph.D., I had a recurring nightmare that somewhere along the line I had failed to complete elementary school and so had to repeat my education from kindergarten to sixth grade as a 30-something adult. I could even feel the ‘pinch’ from the tiny desks I was made to sit in, and somehow all of my old elementary-school teachers were still alive — no matter how elderly they had been when I was their student in the 1980s — to both shepherd me through the process and avenge themselves upon me for childhood misbehavior. Once I successfully defended my dissertation, my brain moved on and found other things about which to invent nightmares.”
Does higher education visit you in your sleep, too? Share your dream about academic life, and we might feature it in an upcoming Daily Briefing. Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.