The murder of George Floyd only three weeks ago forced us all to reflect on how we have not succeeded in creating a just society that treats all humans with dignity. We committed St. Thomas to act.

Today, we announce a new effort aimed at driving meaningful change in our community: the formation of the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas. Dr. Yohuru Williams, current dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has elected to stay at St. Thomas and has accepted the position of Distinguished University Chair, Professor and Founding Director of the initiative effective July 1. Dr. Williams will have a joint appointment in the Department of History and the School of Law.

Dr. Williams was scheduled to take a new position at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. However, Mr. Floyd’s killing and the subsequent calls for justice in the wake of his murder have further brought to light the work that needs to happen in the Twin Cities.

Recent events have placed Minneapolis and St. Paul at the epicenter of a renewed global commitment to racial justice, and the Racial Justice Initiative will help drive meaningful, lasting reform and change. The initiative’s focus will be to facilitate research, explore opportunities for community engagement, and sponsor critical conversations focused on history, race, and obstacles to progress, with a strong focus on the external community. The Racial Justice Initiative will support and sponsor authentic conversations around reimagining Minneapolis and St. Paul and leverage the research and resources at the University of St. Thomas that can be drivers of change in the community. In addition, Dr. Williams also will be involved in teaching interdisciplinary courses and student mentoring.

A noted scholar of the civil rights and black power movement, an education activist and frequent national commentator, Dr. Williams is an important voice on the topics of race and social justice. This new initiative creates a platform for him to accelerate that work with the full support of the university. As a Distinguished University Chair, Dr. Williams will help the university address equity and justice topics that are outside any one school or college and separate from the internal-facing portfolio of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Dr. Williams will collaborate with people across the university already engaged in community work in order to leverage the full intellectual capacity of St. Thomas to be of even greater service to the community.

Dr. Williams will spend his initial weeks in this new role defining the scope and focus of the forthcoming Racial Justice Initiative. He will report directly to President Julie Sullivan and will serve as a member of the President’s Senior Staff to deepen the connection between St. Thomas leadership and the external community. An interview with Dr. Williams about his decision to remain at St. Thomas and his thoughts on the new initiative can be found here.

We are very excited about the opportunity for the Twin Cities to reimagine a model for how communities address race and do social justice work together and are grateful to Dr. Williams for his leadership.

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