Campus News

September 19, 2011

Merger creates intellectual hub for the study of race and difference

The Race and Difference Initiative (RDI), an element of Emory's strategic plan, and the James Weldon Johnson Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies (JWJI), a leading site for civil rights scholarship, are merging to create the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference.

More than a change in nomenclature, the move is an intellectual merger that unifies Emory's interdisciplinary scholarship on the intersections of race and difference, and represents a deepening of rigorous scholarly exploration and a broadening of public scholarship that engages the Emory community and beyond.

Both entities are established forces on campus: Through its research and public programming, the JWJI has been advancing new scholarship, teaching and public dialogue on the modern civil rights movement; and the RDI as a university-wide initiative is fostering new knowledge, teaching and public dialogue focused on race and intersecting dimensions of human difference.

"Instead of moving in parallel and growing in step with each other," explains Provost Earl Lewis, the leadership teams of both entities explored how to bring their related but previously independent structures, intellectual work, and budgets together under one integrated structure.

 "The Johnson Institute and the Race and Difference Initiative are stronger together because of the complementary nature of our respective missions," says JWJI founder and director Rudolph P. Byrd.  "The merger represents an opportunity to expand the reach and scope of our shared work both locally and nationally."

Adds RDI co-leader Tyrone Forman: "The new James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference unites the national name recognition of JWJI and its successful funding record with many external organizations with the Race and Difference Initiative's campus-wide focus on building Emory's intellectual density and training the next generations of scholars supporting the study of race and difference."

Advancing a strategic initiative

The merger will streamline the administrative infrastructure, a consolidation of efforts that will simplify the overhead, says Lewis. It also institutionalizes a strategic plan initiative within the University, anchoring it within the schools – the ultimate goal for all initiatives of Emory's strategic plan.

"It creates a focused academic entity supporting the University's strategic themes and goals of strengthening faculty distinction, student quality, and confronting the human condition and experience through the fostering of new forms of knowledge, encouraging public dialogue, and engaging in social advocacy," Forman says.

The Institute in this next phase of its formation will be housed in the Laney Graduate School and Emory College of Arts and Sciences, both key supporters of the merger.

"The overarching goals of the Initiative and the Institute are linked to enriched research and scholarship that advance understanding, meaning, problem solving and innovation within and among a range of disciplines," says Lisa A. Tedesco, dean of the Laney Graduate School. "The merger provides increased opportunity and access for this work to occur for scholars, researchers and graduate students."

"The new Institute, building on the work of Rudolph Byrd and the leadership of the Race and Difference strategic initiative, provides a wonderful foundation from which we can extend the reach and impact of our efforts in this area, as well as the work of faculty across the entire campus, create new endeavors in support of these goals, and organize them in a manner that increases their vibrancy, scope and visibility," says Emory College Dean Robin Forman.

The Institute is envisioned to serve as the intellectual hub for programming and ideas related to race and difference on campus.

"We hope that the new JWJI-RDI will build on and strengthen curricular and research initiatives around race and difference throughout the University, providing a space to model interdisciplinary, collaborative and engaged scholarship," says Leslie Harris, RDI co-leader.

"There is really significant and important work around the study of race and difference that is occurring at Emory," notes Calinda Lee, associate director of JWJI.

"This is an opportunity for us to make that work cohere, to provide support and scholarly community for other faculty at Emory who have projects going on that are in conversation with this theme. Ideally, it will provide a hub for work that is concerned with the study of race and difference at Emory."

The Institute will focus on creating a community of scholars on campus whose teaching or research relates to race and difference – building on RDI's goal to increase intellectual density -- as well as training the next generation of scholars. Developing a graduate concentration in race and difference will be one of the first orders of business, says RDI co-leader Amanda Lewis.

This will be a year of planning, explains Lee. This academic year, RDI continues to exist with most of its core programs, such as its New Frontiers in Race and Difference Lecture Series, faculty seed grants and graduate student network. And JWJI continues under the new moniker, this fall launching the CNN Dialogues community forums (a series that is "helping to brand Emory University for a national audience," notes Provost Lewis) as well as carrying on its core and signature programs like the Johnson Medals and the Mellon-funded Visiting Scholar Program.

Existing programs will become projects that will live under the umbrella of the institute in this next phase of its formation, notes Provost Lewis.

But "rather than being entirely program-driven, the merged entity will be mission-driven," notes Lee. 

The leadership team is focused on "how to make the biggest impact with our resources," adds Amanda Lewis.

Atlanta as a signature laboratory

In conceiving the Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference, organizers recognized the need to develop a signature activity that would provide both local and national prominence, says Tyrone Forman. And, "in order to be able to effectively fundraise for the Institute, it would be critical that the activity sustain and strengthen research on race and difference as well as the degree to which this knowledge is applied to addressing society's most pressing social issues," he explains.

A signature activity currently in development is the Atlanta Area Study. "The purpose of the Atlanta Area Study is to strengthen research, teaching and public decision-making related to race, difference and public policy," says Tyrone Forman. Atlanta itself will become the laboratory for the study of race and difference.

It's projects like these that will build stronger relationships between Emory and key stakeholders in Georgia, says Forman. Through public events and scholarly work of interest to the larger community, adds Dean Forman, the Institute will facilitate a "better understanding of Atlanta, its distinctive history, and the challenges and opportunities facing us now and in the years to come."

The fully merged entity will be launched in academic year 2012-13.  The focus this year is to complete the various steps involved in the merger — from new office space to a new website — working closely with internal stakeholders, says Byrd.

The Institute is inviting others from around the University "to participate and respond to the opportunities this merger provides," says Harris. "The combined leadership team will be reaching out, but we also encourage interested members of the Emory community to contact us for more information and to participate in this new and exciting direction for both organizations."

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