Georgetown launches Racial Justice Institute

February 25, 2021

Illustration by Deborah Han

Georgetown’s first university-wide racial justice effort, the Racial Justice Institute (RJI) will come into effect four years after the university committed to its creation. 

The new institute, officially launched in a community-wide email on Feb. 22 by University President John DeGioia, will address issues of racial injustice and inequality across university disciplines. The RJI is intended to serve as a meeting place for activists and scholars to address the history of racial discrimination and oppression and promote the well-being of BIPOC.

The concept for the RJI was born in 2016 as part of Georgetown’s effort to address its own history with slavery. In February of that year, DeGioia committed Georgetown to establishing some form of the RJI, which was partially formulated by a Racial Justice Working Group composed of faculty, staff, and students. A second committee of faculty in 2019 identified the four areas of focus for the RJI: health, law, policy, and performing arts and African American studies. 

The leadership appointments to the institute reflect those disciplines. Anita Gonzalez, who will be a co-leader of the RJI, is currently a professor in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan, and has over 20 years of experience combining performing arts and racial justice. She will be joined by Dr. Derek Griffith, currently the director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt. Griffith is a renowned health equity scholar whose work has focused on examining psychology and public health through the lenses of gender, ethnicity, and race. Rounding out the trio is Robin Lenhardt (LL.M.’04), the former faculty director of Fordham Law’s Center on Race, Law and Justice. Lenhardt has defended affirmative action and advocated for community “race audits” to unveil damaging patterns of behavior. 

All faculty will have joint appointments in their respective schools, with Gonzalez on the main campus, Griffith at the Medical Center, and Lenhardt at the Law Center. They will be joined by a fourth member specializing in public policy appointed through the McCourt School once the university finishes its search. 

“The Institute strengthens the framework for our response to the enduring legacies of slavery and segregation and provides a new forum for cross-campus and interdisciplinary approaches to these challenges,” DeGioia wrote in the email. 

The RJI is the latest in a series of attempts by Georgetown to address racial injustice at the university and around the world. Following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last May, the university, along with numerous other organizations, launched a series of conversations about racial justice, followed by a second set on anti-racism in academia. According to the email, the RJI hopes to build on this work and expand it to address racial disparities in D.C. The institute is funded through a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a five-year grant which the university also used to support academia about race. 

“Through this effort, we hope to deepen our University’s shared commitment to the values of justice and equity and more fully recognize the contributions and experiences of the Black community—at Georgetown, and around the world—as central to our history and future,” DeGioia wrote. 

Annemarie Cuccia
Annemarie is an avid Voice reader and former editor-in-chief. She hopes she left the magazine better than she found it.

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