“It’s a brand new paradigm,” said Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Education who has served on the NAACP executive committee and as the education chair for the NAACP’s California Hawaii State Conference. “There is no playbook.”
Vasquez Heilig, who is the initiative’s mastermind, said research will be done not by finding topics in the halls of academia, as is usually done, but rather in African American communities.
“The idea here is to go to communities and understand what research they think needs to be done,” he said in an interview. “Instead of going to communities in the colonial way and taking research, we are asking what research they think is important to do.”
The focus of the initiative’s work will be to advance and protect education for students from preschool through higher education — with an emphasis on race-based discrimination. Special attention will be paid to students from underserved communities in Kentucky, which reflects many around the country.
The initiative will also seek to understand the challenges of students who are marginalized in the education sector based on factors including ability, gender, ethnicity, age and sexuality — and it will explore the intersectionality of these identities.
The agreement for the new initiative — for which a director and researchers have been hired — was signed by Vasquez Heilig, NAACP president and chief executive Derrick Johnson, NAACP Chairman Leon W. Russell and David Blackwell, the provost of the University of Kentucky. It will be based in the department of educational policy studies and evaluation at the College of Education at the university, which is largely funding the initiative.
“These scholars will partner with students, educators, and communities to document the experiences of those facing educational disparities and use research to shape public policy,” Johnson said in a statement. “To see change, we must focus on discipline policies, school funding structures, college and career readiness initiatives, and our own great teachers in underserved communities.”
The director of the initiative is Gregory Vincent, a renowned civil rights attorney who just joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky. He is also the outgoing Grand Sire Archon of the Boule’, the nation’s first Greek-letter fraternity founded by African American men.
Researchers hired for the initiative include Sarah LaCour, arriving from the University of Colorado at Boulder, who will serve as an assistant director of the civil rights initiative, and Cheryl Matias, a scholar who studies culturally responsive education practices.