‘Unity Dinner: Race in America’ on March 23

The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy is launching Unity Dinners, a new series that aims to bring students, faculty and staff together in community and conversation around our society’s most pressing issues.  

“Unity Dinner: Race in America” will be held on Thursday, March 23, at 5:30 p.m. in Buttrick Hall, Room 123. 

In partnership with the Vanderbilt Initiative for Race Research and Justice at Peabody College, Unity Dinner: Race in America will be a 90-minute conversation centered around the Unity Project’s second pillar, “Race in America: Toward a Nation of Equality.”  

The Unity Dinner will be led by topic scholars Ira Murray and Dena Lane-Bonds of the Initiative for Race Research and Justice, along with Shevonne Nelson Dillingham, the Unity Project’s program director for intercultural engagement. The conversation will be guided by agreed-upon rules of engagement to encourage civil discourse and open discussion. Vanderbilt community members will be able to share their knowledge and world view in an environment that centers transformative communication. 

Additional Unity Dinners will be scheduled for the spring and fall semesters. Mark you calendar for the next Unity Dinner on April 18, which will explore the project pillar Hours of Hope: Case Studies in American Progress.

Read more about the topic scholars here: 

Dena Lane-Bonds is the assistant director and research scientist for the Initiative for Race Research and Justice at Vanderbilt Peabody College. Lane-Bonds has devoted her career to fighting for justice with a keen focus on dismantling systems of oppression for people with marginalized identities. She works with critical scholars, students and community partners to create and sustain equitable policies and practices for minoritized people. As the assistant director, she assists with research initiatives dedicated to advancing literacy, leadership, and civic engagement skills for Middle Tennessee youth. She also oversees the inaugural RRJ Graduate and Professional Student Interdisciplinary Board for Racial Justice and Equity. 

Lane-Bonds’ overall research investigates how neoliberal educational policies impact social justice efforts and education reform in P-20, graduate student support services, and international and cross-cultural learning. She also examines asset-building policies, practices and programs that enable disadvantaged communities to build social and economic capital. Her research focuses primarily on four areas: homelessness and housing insecurity in higher education; policies and programs that enhance the academic success of marginalized college students; social justice and equity in graduate education; and career development for international students. Lane-Bonds’ recent study explored how graduate students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity navigated their education. She has published articles in top journals such as Research in Education and The Journal of Negro Education. Lane-Bonds earned a bachelor’s degree in African American and African diaspora studies and in psychology, with a minor in social science and medicine, and a certificate in neuroscience from Indiana University; her master’s degree in educational psychology with an emphasis on counseling and student affairs from Northern Arizona University; and a doctor of philosophy in educational leadership and policy analysis, a minor in college teaching, and a certificate in qualitative research, and geographic information science from the University of Missouri. 

Ira E. Murray is associate director of research and development at the Vanderbilt University Initiative for Race Research and Justice, where he oversees RRJ’s research portfolio, grants and partnerships. Before this role, Murray was the president and chief executive officer of United Way of the Capital Area in Jackson, Mississippi. At both Vanderbilt University and United Way, he has led equity-focused research and strategic planning efforts, including helping to craft United Way’s networkwide equity strategy and framework. His current work focuses on developing deeper knowledge and understanding of the role of race equity in the decision-making of educators inside and outside of school. 

Murray earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Florida A&M University, a master of education from Vanderbilt University, and a doctor of philosophy in education from the University of Pittsburgh. He resides with his family in Nashville, Tennessee.