Using Research to Confront Racial Disparities

Photo of Danelle Stevens-Watkins

As a scholar, I see myself as a vessel for learning and unlearning in the fields of anti-racism and the institution of slavery. Like history, science often presents certain information that informs our communities, provide backgrounds and stir dialogues so that we can, ultimately, learn from our past and build a brighter future for all.

An R1 institution, the university has a significant responsibility to bring these truths to light. One of those truths, undeniably, is the existence of racial disparities and inequity among communities of color.

Our newest research priority area (RPA), UNITed in racial Equity (UNITE) Research Initiative, supports research focused on racial disparities, racial health equity, social and racial justice as well as the recruitment and retention of racially diverse faculty, staff and students at UK.

Designating this kind of research as an RPA makes it one of seven such research programs across the enterprise. Under the leadership of Assistant Vice President for Research in Diversity and Inclusion Danelle Stevens-Watkins, who also serves as the director of Graduate Studies in the UK College of Education, the university is taking a necessary step to ensure that our past is not representative of our present or future.

I am excited to see progress being made in formalizing research surrounding critical topics such as these. It speaks to UK’s commitment to do more and be more for our community…for our friends, neighbors and colleagues who have, for far too long, experienced the systemic and systematic racism that exists in nearly all aspects of our society.

An RPA in racial disparities and inequities will bring our experts together who are already engaged in similar research, and it will ensure a strong collaboration between our research teams and the provost’s office to build a more diverse faculty.

To quote Dr. Stevens-Watkins, “We know that scholars are often attracted to and will stay at institutions where they experience synergy and support for their research. By offering this support through programming and initiatives, UNITE can help draw in talented underrepresented minority faculty members that will become established at UK.”

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important that we collectively examine how the disease disproportionately affects communities of color as well as other social justice impacts of COVID-19. 

I am proud to be part of an institution that recognizes and understands the impact institutionalized slavery has had on our current day. I look forward to seeing how UNITE catalyzes this institution and the larger community to reconcile our past and learn from our experts in dismantling a system that has oppressed too many for too long.