August 18, 2020

President Bendapudi’s anti-racist agenda to reshape U of L

By Eli Hughes–

University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi announced U of L’s anti-racist agenda on July 28. The agenda is a part of U of L’s plans to establish itself as a premier anti-racist metropolitan research university.

“We serve a more racially and socio-economically diverse student population than most research universities in the country, and we have a unique, abiding and pervasive relationship with the City of Louisville,” Bendapudi said in an email to the university community.

“But we must do more. In higher education, we have the great good fortune to be able to aspire to the highest ideals of society. In our exploration and growth, I believe universities can be models for the communities in which they exist.”

Bendapudi went on to discuss what the U of L administration has done in the past to promote anti-racism and diversity, what they are currently doing and what can be done in the future.

Bendapudi summarized the university’s past by pointing out that U of L integrated in 1951, making it one of the first universities in Kentucky to do so. U of L was also one of the first universities in the country to create a Pan-African Studies program, which was started in 1973.

She then continued by discussing the current initiatives in place that promote anti-racism and emphasize diversity.

“For instance, half or more of all new faculty hires in the last year in the College of Business, the College of Education and Human Development and the Brandeis School of Law were people of color,” Bendapudi said. “This intentionality on the part of these unit leaders and their teams demonstrate a commitment to anti-racist action in our hiring.”

She also pointed to the on-going construction of the new Cultural and Equity center and a recent study that listed U of L as one of the three most selective universities in the country that provide equal access for Black and Latinx students.

Bendapudi went on to address the new initiatives U of L would be taking on to remain committed to anti-racism.

“Throughout the past seven weeks, I have been fortunate to have engaged in countless conversations with leaders, activists and friends throughout our Louisville Black community and across the nation,” she said.  “From those conversations, it is evident there is an array of perspectives on what must be done to achieve racial equity and there is no quick solution.”

She then discussed the Anti-Racist Agenda, which has it’s own webpage on U of L’s website. The website includes articles about the commitment U of L is taking anti-racism and articles about the current things the university is doing to make progress.

Bendapudi then invited U of L community members to visit the website and share their thoughts on new steps the university can take going forward.

Some students, however, think that U of L has a lot of work to do before they can claim to be an anti-racist university.

David Echeverria is a junior at U of L, an MLK scholar and the former president of the Latino Student Union. Echeverria urges the university to take actions that aren’t just performative.

“We are past the time for panels and discussions, it is time for action from the university,” Echeverria said.  “The responses from the University throughout the summer have been very disappointing and upsetting.”

Echeverria believes that there are several anti-racist actions U of L has to commit to in order to be an anti-racist university. These actions include cutting ties with the Louisville Metro Police Department, giving students of color a platform outside of SGA, prioritizing retention of students, faculty and staff of color and moving towards being precautionary towards racial issues rather than reactionary.

“If the university aims to be an Anti-Racist university, and actually perform as one rather than just acquiring another accolade to recruit ‘diverse students’, then there is a lot of work to be done,” Echeverria said.

“And that work should not be labor put on Black and Brown students, and if their input and work is needed then they should be compensated for the skilled labor, as it is clear those in administration at the university do not have the skills that are needed to move the university towards that goal.”

Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David Owen also responded to Bendapudi’s announcement. He responded with excitement and said that anti-racism has always been his focus.

“My vision for A&S is one of a community grounded on discovering and sharing knowledge and understandings, where all feel at home and recognized as equals,” Owen said.

“A&S can only enact this vision if we address the systemic problems of justice and equity that are embedded in individual practices and institutional structures. Thus, a primary strategy for achieving this vision is to strive together to build the nation’s premier anti-racist university.”

Owen went on to detail how A&S has the advantage of being able to pull from their numerous diverse academic programs as they proceed with the anti-racist agenda.

Owen said that A&S planned to complete their search for Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within the next few weeks. He also said that he has asked members of A&S leadership to come up with one or two changes that can be made within their department, program or area to promote anti-racism. Owen has also proposed an anti-racist curriculum requirement that will be developed by a committee in the coming weeks.

“Additional areas of work may be identified as we engage our students, faculty, and staff in the university conversation about what the Cardinal Anti-Racism Agenda should mean in practice,” Owen said.

“To that end, please help us build a robust plan of action by visiting the Cardinal Anti-Racism Agenda website and providing your input on historic UofL initiatives that provide an anti-racist foundation upon which we can build; current and ongoing initiatives that represent steps U of L is taking to achieve our anti-racism goal; and ideas for new initiatives that foster equity and celebrate diversity. ”

File Photo//The Louisville Cardinal

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