IUPUI focusing on anti-racism initiatives after turbulent summer

An anti-discrimination banner hangs from the Michigan and Blake streets walkwayView print quality image
The newly installed Black Lives Matter banner blankets the skywalk over Michigan Street. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

After a turbulent summer marred by the death of George Floyd and dominated by massive protests across the country, IUPUI is focusing on its anti-racism initiatives as the 2020-21 academic year begins.

Floyd's death, caught on camera and seen by millions, sparked anger across the world as people sat inside their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While Floyd's is not the first death of a Black person seen on camera at the hands of a police officer, Karen Dace, IUPUI vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, believes the pandemic heightened people's awareness of the injustice and has led to more people wanting to have conversations about race.

"Because of the pandemic, everybody was at home, and George Floyd's death was on television for all to see," Dace said. "So the combination of his death and the pandemic has created an awakening in people."

Dace and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion know the conversation on racism isn't stopping any time soon, and they have resources for students, staff and faculty who want to participate. The White Racial Literacy Project provides an educational environment and a reflective opportunity for white people within the IUPUI community to unpack misconceptions and misinformation about structural racism.

"It occurred to us a few years ago that there are always these dialogues between white people and people of color where we bring people together to talk," said Dace. "We've been doing it for years, but the needle hasn't really moved much."

Dace and her staff realized that people of color often talk about race, but white people aren't forced to discuss the topic as much -- and if they do, they don't have the tools and resources to help them through the conversation. That sparked the idea of the White Racial Literacy Project, which was created in 2018.

"We needed to allow white people to have conversations about race without people of color," Dace said. "We could then bring people together again afterward, and that's the idea behind the project."

In addition to the WRLP, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office routinely hosts renowned speakers, and the Black Faculty and Staff Council is hosting a webinar series throughout this semester titled "Where Do We Go From Here?" Also this fall, the DEI office is hosting a reading of "How To Be An Anti-Racist" by Ibram X. Kendi. When Dace put out a call for the reading, she planned on 10 groups, but sign-ups came pouring in, and she is up to 20 groups and nearly 350 people.

"I think we laid the groundwork with the White Racial Literacy Project," Dace said. "Plenty of people are interested in having these conversations, and I think that is only going to help."

The programs and readings are an established part of IUPUI's mission to be an inclusive campus, but new in 2020 are some cosmetic changes to campus and the surrounding area. Blanketing the skywalk over Michigan and Blake streets are banners that read "Black Lives Matter" and "Discrimination has no place here." A few blocks over, a beautifully intricate Black Lives Matter mural covers a section of Indiana Avenue adjacent to campus.

The changes are reminders of where the nation is today -- at a point that Dace wasn't sure she would ever see.

"Just six months ago, it was a controversial thing to say 'Black lives matter,'" she said. "I grew tired of telling people why they shouldn't be offended by the phrase, because if you don't understand by now, you just don't want to understand. And so now to see it painted on Indiana Avenue is amazing and almost overwhelming. It gives me chills because I'm not sure I ever thought I would see that."

Students, faculty and staff who want to join the conversation and get involved should visit diversity.iupui.edu.