Scholars gather for ‘Race at the Forefront,’ CRISMA’s inaugural conference

Faculty; Public Health; Social Work

More than 225 people from various parts of the country gathered at the Brown School for the Collaboration on Race, Inequality, and Social Mobility in America’s inaugural conference March 28-29.

The event, entitled “Race at the Forefront: Sharpening a Focus on Race in Applied Research,” brought together scholars who are working toward the elimination of racial inequalities in social, economic and health outcomes. Darrell Hudson, who is an associate professor at the Brown School and co-director of the Collaboration on Race, Inequality, and Social Mobility in America (CRISMA), spelled out these goals:

  • To frame a contemporary, interdisciplinary research agenda that addresses social, economic and health equity by placing race at the forefront;
  • to sustain this agenda by establishing a long-term working group and linking researchers and funders;
  • and to disseminate research findings that can have an impact on practices and policies.

Angela Glover Blackwell, who is the founder in residence of PolicyLink, delivered a rousing speech to welcome participants.

“Achieving equity requires that you focus on the most vulnerable,” she said. “You have to ask who is most vulnerable, who is being left behind. …  A lot of people think that you’re going to neglect others if you start there. Well, just think about it this way: If we had understood the crack epidemic, we would not be caught flat-footed with the opiate epidemic, right?”

“You just have to know that starting with the most vulnerable benefits everybody. I call it the ‘curb-cut effect.’ Those curb cuts in the sidewalk that are there because of advocacy of people with disabilities. People in wheelchairs with disabilities. That’s why they’re there. And yet how many times have you been pushing a stroller and been so happy you didn’t have to pick up that contraption to go sidewalk to sidewalk? How many times have people doing work, pulling wagons, pushing carts, … made their burden lightened because of those curb cuts? They even save lives because nine out of 10 unencumbered adults cross the street at the corner because of the curb cuts.

“If you solve problems with specificity and nuance for the most vulnerable, you solve them for everybody.”

The conference featured numerous panels packed with experts: Race at the Forefront in Health and Well-being; Race at the Forefront in Education; Race at the Forefront: Measurement and Methodology Innovations. The second day, which wrapped up after noon, featured a speech by Bonnie Duran, a professor in social work and public health at the University of Washington and a team member of the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute. She spoke about “Community-Based Participatory Research: A Grounding for Action and Social Change.” The morning also featured a panel about funding for research.

CRISMA, based within the Brown School’s Center for Social Development (CSD), has three co-directors: Hudson and associate professors David A. Patterson Silver Wolf and Sheretta Butler-Barnes. Butler-Barnes closed the conference.

“We need to use different methodologies to understand our most vulnerable communities, or we are going to be here 30 to 50 years later having the same conversation,” she said.

“Be persistent. Be a change agent. Be inspired. Collaborate with community members and partners who are doing your work. Value and respect each other’s voices. And always ask who is included and who is not. And pay it forward.”

CSD organized the conference with support from the Ford Foundation, Grand Challenges for Social Work, and these Washington University in St. Louis partners: Brown School, Institute for Public Health, Office of the Provost, Clark-Fox Policy Institute, Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and Institutional Diversity, and the Sociology Department.

You may view a collection of photos from the conference here.