Cultivating Antiracist Universities
Approximately 1,700 people attended St. Thomas' inaugural Equity in Action: Cultivating Antiracist Universities conference. The one-day event held in April challenged attendees’ thoughts on what it means to be an antiracist and its significance to higher education.
“The centerpiece of how to be an antiracist university would be that the university is being a force for racial justice and equity in its community,” said keynote speaker Professor Ibram X. Kendi, author of the bestseller How to Be an Antiracist.
For those who don’t know the difference between being antiracist and being “not racist,” Kendi explained it in a fireside chat with Dr. Yohuru Williams, Distinguished University Chair, professor of history and founding director of the Racial Justice Initiative. “Antiracism is a powerful collection of policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by ideas of racial equality. To be antiracist is more of a journey. It’s not a destination.”
The event’s 19 available workshops and breakout sessions, led primarily by St. Thomas students, faculty and staff, revealed how the university is on the right path. This was evident by some session titles: “Breaking the Cycle of White Supremacy in Us,” “Inclusive Advising: Building Equity into STEM Education,” “Discussions in Antiracist Street Art” and "Deans Discuss Racial Issues."
“Antiracism work is a key component of the St. Thomas DE&I plan,” said Kha Yang, associate vice president for inclusive excellence, who heads the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the university and made the Equity in Action conference a reality.
With the success of the first of many Equity in Action conferences expected in the coming years, Yang said, “This conference is just a starting point in our long journey. We are far from an equitable world and there is much work ahead. Leave your comfortable zone and engage in uncomfortable dialogues. It is in those moments that we can challenge ourselves to think and act differently toward creating lasting change.”