Research News

Inaugural conference on race justice to feature internationally known scholars

Marc Lamont Hill, Gloria Ladson-Billings and Bettina Love will participate in Racial Justice in Education and Society Virtual Conference Dec. 5

By Kurt Brobeck

The Initiative for Race Research and Justice at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development will host its inaugural conference on Saturday, Dec. 5. The daylong Racial Justice in Education and Society Virtual Conference features several internationally known scholars and leaders who will address a range of questions about racial justice as the issue applies in educational settings and more broadly.

Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan R. Wente (Vanderbilt University)
Susan R. Wente, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs (Vanderbilt University)

“Vanderbilt’s trans-institutional approach to research and discovery makes it an opportune setting for a groundbreaking gathering on the intersection of race and education, policy, sociology and many other disciplines,” said Susan R. Wente, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Vanderbilt is proud to make this inaugural conference possible and further the university’s commitment to countering racism’s negative effects on learners at all levels.”

The conference agenda features a roster of important researchers, educators and thought leaders, including plenary addresses by Marc Lamont Hill, who is Steve Charles Professor of Media, Cities and Solutions at Temple University; Gloria Ladson-Billings, president of the National Academy of Education and professor, emerita, and former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor in Urban Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Bettina Love, an award-winning author and Athletic Association Endowed Professor at the University of Georgia.

Rich Milner (John Russell/Vanderbilt)
H. Richard Milner IV, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Education (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

“The goal of the conference is to gather a diverse collection of educators, community activists, policymakers, parents, families and community members to address perhaps the most important issue of our time: racial justice inside and outside of education,” said H. Richard Milner IV, the conference’s organizer, founding director of the IRRJ, and Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Education. The initiative’s associate directors are Graham Reside, assistant professor of the practice of ethics in the Vanderbilt Divinity School, and Dr. Wonder Drake, professor of medicine in the Vanderbilt Medical School.

Milner hopes to spark and contribute to national dialogue about issues of racism, anti-Black racism and other forms of discrimination that prevent people from reaching their full capacity and life chances. He sees these challenges as playing out both inside and outside of classrooms.

The conference is open to educators in pre-K through grade  12 and higher education, faculty and staff in pre-K through grade  12 and higher education, community activists, athletes, policymakers, parents, families and community members.

Organizers also see the conference as an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to participate and build their knowledge and understanding and, they hope, to consider their own scholarship and careers.

A number of smaller convenings and breakout sessions throughout the daylong conference will address questions of practices and application, focusing on how to build anti-racist teacher education programs, the role of racism within sports, restorative justice and policing, and teaching in prison settings. Conveners include Christine Sleeter, professor, emerita, in the College of Education at California State University–Monterey Bay; and John Singer, associate dean for diversity and inclusion and associate professor of sport management in the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University.

Several Vanderbilt Peabody professors, including Nicole Joseph, assistant professor of mathematics education; Ana Christina da Silva, professor of the practice of education; and Teresa Dunleavy, assistant professor of the practice of mathematics education, also will lead sessions addressing culturally responsive STEM teaching, preparing educators to work with immigrant students and families, and centering students’ humanity in the teaching of mathematics. Sessions also will be aimed at assisting scholars in building research programs on race and racism as a part of their academic portfolios.

Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development (Vanderbilt University)

“Educators have increasingly come to see that to be effective in their work, they must address persistent inequities in our educational systems,” said Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development. “This conference will draw upon the expertise of our Peabody College faculty as well as that of many others to inspire attendees and promote positive change.”

While Milner desires a large attendance, he’s most concerned about the impact on those who participate. “The success of the conference can only be measured by the number of people who are potentially transformed to do more than talk about challenges but move them into real solutions to address policies and systems that continue to maintain an inequitable status quo,” he said.

Although there is a conference fee of $125 for non-students, Milner doesn’t want this to prohibit attendance. “Anyone who is interested but cannot afford to register should email us, and we will give them a registration code,” he said. With the robust sponsorship he has been able to garner, conference registration is free to undergraduate and graduate students until registration closes. It is also free to Metro-Nashville Public Schools educators with a valid MNPS email address until conference capacity is reached. 

The conference has a broad base of support at Vanderbilt, including co-sponsorships by Vanderbilt Athletics, Peabody’s Office of the Dean, the Computational Thinking and Learning Initiative, Vanderbilt’s residential colleges, the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions, the Department of Philosophy (through the Douglas MacDonald Fund), the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, the Provost’s Offices of Faculty Affairs and Inclusive Excellence, the Vanderbilt dean of students, and Peabody’s Department of Teaching and Learning.

“We want to demonstrate a collective effort at Vanderbilt to address these issues,” Milner said. “There are specific sessions on higher education, as well, to help us get better at Vanderbilt and other institutions of higher education. I hope the conference is a good step to tear down some walls between units so that we can build tools and mechanisms to improve our community.”

External sponsors include the University School of Nashville; Ensworth School; Louisiana State UniversityCollege of Human Sciences and Education; Texas Southern University Center for Justice Research; SAGE/Corwin publishing; the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University; Washtenaw Intermediate School District; Rutgers Graduate School of Education; University of Pittsburgh Center for Urban Education; TeachingWorks of the University of Michigan; Western Carolina University College of Education and Allied Professions; the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture at Texas A&M University; and Wayne State University’s College of Education and Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

Ultimately, Milner sees the conference as an essential and timely event for the Initiative for Race Research and Justice. “It helps provide a signature space of the kinds of knowledge construction that we hope to build over time to support real people committed to improving the human condition,” he said. “The time is now. We have got to do better for the sake of our own humanity.”

To learn more about the conference and to register to attend, visit the Racial Justice and Education in Society Virtual Conference website.