The George Washington University Institute for Racial, Ethnic and Socioeconomic Equity, better known as “ The Equity Institute,” has received its official charter. The institute’s establishment officially opens a new collaborative, interdisciplinary chapter for GW researchers addressing questions of racial and socioeconomic justice.
The institute will hold its annual spring Global Equity Workshop April 26, featuring presentations of research alongside networking opportunities and workshops on relevant issues, like how to establish meaningful community partnerships. Next steps will also include the search for the institute’s inaugural executive director.
GW Law Dean and Harold H. Greene Professor of Law Dayna Bowen Matthew, who launched the preliminary Equity Institute Initiative in 2021, will serve as its inaugural faculty director. The formal establishment of the institute is a marker of GW’s commitment to justice and also will help cement GW’s reputation as a resource to support scholars, governments, and communities in meaningful, data-driven policymaking, she said.
“The university’s decision to charter a new research institute dedicated to the principles of equality, fairness and freedom means everything,” Matthew said. “It means that at the dawn of our third century, GW has dedicated its resources to support faculty and students who seek to improve societies near and far, by contributing to the work of eradicating discrimination, bigotry, prejudice and inequality—to advancing the cause of justice, both here in the United States and around the world.”
The institute already is bringing together scholars and policymakers from across the disciplines. Ten projects received Equity Institute seed funding last year, with more upcoming. It hosted its inaugural research showcase last September, featuring 23 research presentations from 10 schools at GW and keynoted by scholar and commentator Eddie Glaude. The Equity Institute will support the development of new research collaborations, provide support for faculty submitting equity-related grant proposals and scholarship, expose students to the best practices of participatory based research and facilitate authentic community research partnerships.
“As an institution whose academic and research mission focuses on solving society’s most urgent problems, GW is well-positioned to meet the challenge of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequality, one of the most pressing, complex issues of our time. The chartering of the Equity Institute signals the university’s strong and distinctive commitment to leveraging our academic strengths and location in order to address equity and social justice issues,” Provost Christopher Bracey said.
Third-year GW Law student Kian Azimpoor is one beneficiary of Equity Institute funding, though not directly. Last semester he took a criminal justice seminar with Associate Professor of Law Donald Braman, an Equity Institute grantee and director of science and policy at the Justice Innovation Lab (JIL). JIL helps prosecutors nationwide use evidence-based practices to increase public safety while reducing unjust and untenable racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The seminar, “Selected Topics in Criminal Justice,” enabled GW Law students to contribute to that work.
Azimpoor and his team of three student colleagues interviewed prosecutors nationwide about how they use diversion programs and how these can reduce disparities in the criminal justice system. The students turned what they learned into a professional-grade report, which JIL will integrate into its bank of data.
“The really cool thing was that these were real world problems,” Azimpoor said. “In a way, it’s probably the most creative class I’ve ever taken—the kind of course that has the ability to help facilitate a new wave of innovative law students.”
Other grantees, too, have seen their projects progress under the aegis of the Equity Institute. Associate Professor of Sociology Ivy Ken and Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Saniya LeBlanc both said Equity Institute funding has enabled site visits and more robust community partnerships.
“The Equity Institute seed grant has catalyzed our partnership with community organizations,” said LeBlanc, whose project explores how technological innovation can improve health outcomes. “We are learning so much about the different perspectives, approaches and experiences across healthcare, energy infrastructure, transportation and education as our project team builds bridges between disciplines and organizations in D.C.”
Innovation and collaboration, of course, are at the top of Matthew’s wish list for the future of the Equity Institute. She and her team envision a kind of web, enabling partnerships between GW and the wider community as well as within the university. One initiative she hopes to bring to fruition: a “maker’s space” at which GW students in science, technology, engineering and math can share cutting-edge technological know-how with high school students from predominately underrepresented groups in Washington, D.C.
While the initiative’s future is bright, Matthew said its present is just as compelling.
“I’m particularly excited by the connections already being made across campus among researchers, students and administrators, all of whom are finding new ways to have an impact on people’s real lives—whether in rural Minnesota, downtown D.C. or sub-Saharan Africa,” Matthew said. “We are collaborating to bring positive change to people and communities who need it most, and we are doing it by working together.”