Friday Wake Forest University joined a group of two dozen colleges, universities and public interest organizations that have collectively announced $18 million in commitments to support and improve academic research about women and girls of color.
The announcement came during a daylong summit on Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color co-hosted by White House Council on Women and Girls and the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University. Provost Rogan Kersh introduced the “Collaborative to Advance Equity through Research” to publicly affirm the critical need for research about women and girls of color and commit resources of member institutions to pursuing and supporting this research.
The specific form of commitments vary according to the unique mission, structure, and resources of each member institution. Wake Forest’s commitment includes more than $1.4 million in ongoing support for the Anna Julia Cooper Center’s research focused on intersectional scholarship, established scholars and junior scholars whose work focuses on women and girls of color, and post-doctoral fellowships for scholars researching related questions related to gender, race and place.
“Women of color will constitute more than half of all women in the United States by 2050, but they are infrequently the central subjects of scholarly inquiry,” said Kersh, a prominent social scientist who also serves as a professor of politics and international affairs. “This research deficit has meaningful consequences for the ways our institutions contribute to public discourse and policy making. As part of the collaborative, Wake Forest is proud to be among such a distinguished group of institutions that seeks to address this deficit.”
By bringing together stakeholders from the academic, private, government and philanthropic sectors who are committed to increasing opportunity and empowerment for women and girls of color and their peers, the summit examined the existing landscape of research focused on women and girls of color, the gaps in knowledge or data that need to be addressed, and the kinds of work that can swiftly and substantively improve the ability to make informed policy choices.
More than 30 speakers and panelists participated, included Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General, Valerie Jarrett, Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls and Senior Adviser and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls and Chief of Staff for the First Lady
Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Teresa Younger, CEO of the Ms. Foundation.
“I am extraordinarily proud that Wake Forest University has taken a leadership role convening this meaningful initiative. These commitments are consequential and I genuinely believe the work supported by the institutions of the collaborative will advance the cause of equity and justice for women and girls of color,” said Presidential Endowed Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, Director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center, who also gave remarks and moderated a panel at the conference. “This is about fulfilling the core mission of our university to produce world class scholarship and first rate teaching that is in the service of humanity, Pro Humanitate.”
Four undergraduate research fellows with the Anna Julia Cooper Center witnessed the historic shared commitment to advancing scholarship relating to women and girls of color. Chizoba Ukairo is a junior psychology major from Maryland whose AJC Center fellowship has connected her with the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies in New Orleans. For her senior research project, she is planning to explore how psychological traumas associated with chronic shaming of black women manifest themselves and limit black women in very realistic ways. “Black women are beautiful, worthy and an entity that has not always been appreciated through research, nor in society. This conference is a historic way to appreciate and value black women and do research on them and not always group them with white women or black men,” said Ukairo. “It says a lot that the University, through the Anna Julia Cooper Center, is publicly supporting this effort with the White House. I think Wake, like many colleges, still has a ways to go, and I’m glad the University is taking this important step.”
T.J. Smith, a senior politics and international affairs major from Greensboro, N.C., said advancing equity for women and girls of color is not just important to academics, policymakers and public interest groups.
“Everyone should care more about research. Research fills gaps in our knowledge,” he said. “If you want good policy, you need to make sure you understand the full problem and that you understand every point. People may ask what good is research if it doesn’t translate into policy? A lack of inclusive research is reflected in a lot of our current policy; it affects everyone but isn’t constructed around everyone. Thus many of the underlying structural and systemic causes are not addressed.”
Suvra Mostafa agreed. A junior anthropology major from Solvang, Calif., Mostafa is working on a research study on youth and perceptions of economic opportunity.
“It is important to recognize how our culture is structured and how women of color are constantly facing obstacles that other groups aren’t facing,” she said. “We are fortunate to have this opportunity to meet people from the administration and share ideas. This is a big step for Wake Forest and for us as academics and researchers. As someone who wants to work on social justice from a policy perspective, I am excited about making these connections.”
Other institutions involved in this effort include: