Welcome to Race on Campus. This week, we continue our series on campus pledges to improve race-relations. Our Katie Mangan reports on the University of Louisville, located in a city that was a focal point for protest last summer.

If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write to me: fernanda@chronicle.com.

A Personal Pledge

Last year, Neeli Bendapudi, president of the University of Louisville, made a personal pledge to Maliya Homer, president of the university’s Black Student Union.

In a June 2020 letter posted on the university’s website, Bendapudi vowed that the university would take several steps to address the complaints of students still numb over the police killing of a 26-year-old Black woman, Breonna Taylor. The emergency-room technician at a University of Louisville health center had been shot to death three months earlier by white officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department, who broke into her apartment with a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night. The killing amplified national calls for police reform, but struck particularly hard on Louisville’s campus, located in a city patrolled by the department that conducted the botched narcotics raid.

Bendapudi started out by saying that while she sympathized with students’ concerns, the university couldn’t agree to their main demand, that it sever all ties with Louisville police. Overlapping jurisdictions and the need to keep students safe made that unrealistic, she wrote. At the time, Homer called the response a “slap in the face.”

The university would, however, make sure its own police officers took the lead in all investigations involving a member of their community. Equity audits would be performed for all criminal-justice academic programs. De-escalation and cultural-sensitivity training would be required of all police officers and security staff members contracted by the university.

Offering Reassurances

So how well has the university followed through on those pledges? It’s making steady progress, the president asserts. The university has formalized agreements that its officers take the lead in all campus-related investigations. It’s also made clear that it will be in charge when potentially rowdy football fans converge on the 60,000-seat Cardinal Stadium. Online sensitivity and de-escalation training was conducted this spring for law-enforcement and security officials who are likely to encounter students on campus.

Meanwhile, the university is taking other small steps to reassure students still leery of interactions with municipal police. Campus police have started to identify themselves by wearing the university’s seal, a Minerva badge, on their shoulders, and they sometimes bring along a golden retriever whose sign offers “free hugs.”

Louisville’s criminal-justice department houses a police-training institute that educates officers from around the country. As part of a broader effort to incorporate more social-justice issues into its courses, the institute is developing a course on trauma-informed policing. The goal will be to help police officers and criminal-justice students better understand how someone who’s experienced trauma and violence might interact with police officers. Theater and criminal-justice students are teaming up to offer simulations similar to those medical students use to improve their bedside manner.

Confronting Criticism

One area that’s taken longer than expected is the equity audits of five years’ worth of core criminal-justice courses. Cherie Dawson-Edwards, an associate professor of criminal justice, started those before being promoted last August to associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion for the university’s College of Arts and Sciences.

She’s assigned a graduate student in organizational leadership to work with her to oversee those audits, starting with searches for key equity terms in the syllabi and following up with faculty interviews this spring. The university hopes to use it as a model for other Arts & Sciences departments.

As a Black woman in criminal justice — an academic field dominated by white men — Dawson-Edwards said it’s been difficult to placate the diverse range of students she teaches. That was especially true last year when the triggering event involved a Black woman shot to death by a white police officer.

“I had students who were police officers as well as students who were out there protesting the police, so I had to be sensitive to both when the BSU [Black Student Union] demands came out,” she said.

Dawson-Edwards said she knows some student activists aren’t satisfied with the university’s response since it falls short of severing all ties with metropolitan police. (Neither Homer nor other representatives of the Black Student Union responded to The Chronicle’s repeated requests for comment over the past two weeks.) “I understand them, and I respect their fight,” she said. “But that’s something we just can’t do.” —Katie Mangan

Read Up

  • Martha S. Jones, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, will write four books about about the history of slavery, race, and identity. (The New York Times)
  • In Richmond, Va., white children between the ages of 12 and 17 have up to three times the vaccination rates of their Black peers. That means Black children run a greater Covid-19 infection risk. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
  • For years, Derrick Bell worked as a civil-rights lawyer. His work led him to draw an important conclusion: that racism is a permanent part of American society. This argument is the foundation for critical race theory. (The New Yorker)
  • It’s Hispanic Heritage Month. Revisit our explainer on the word “Latinx” and who uses it. (The Chronicle)