Embodying Collective Wisdom: Updates From Our ‘Critical Race Initiative’ (by Beverly M. Pratt)

Critical Race Theory is no longer only three words UMD’s sociology graduate students read about in social theory textbooks and discuss around graduate seminar tables. It’s now something that we’ve breathed alive, birthing a tangible sociological practice within our department and broader college and university community. Derrick Bell, widely known as a forerunner of Critical Race Theory, frames critical race theorists as active scholars that

… strive for a specific, more egalitarian, state of affairs. We seek to empower and include traditionally excluded views and see all-inclusive as the ideal because of our belief in collective wisdom (1995:901)**.

It’s our intention, as creators of and participants in our department’s Critical Race Initiative, to sociologically embody Bell’s words. That said, the following summarizes our Initiative’s beginnings, our recent events, and our plans for next academic year.


Participants at a recent CRI Brownbag

The Critical Race Initiative was conceived with an idea and a desire by Professor Patricia Hill Collins to develop a stronger critical race presence in the sociology department and to institutionalize interests in race and ethnicity studies. To further develop this idea, Collins consulted with Professors Kris Marsh, Julie Park, and Rashawn Ray, as well as senior doctoral students in the department. As a result of these discussions, it became evident to Collins that an institutionalized canal was desired by graduate students, faculty, and visiting scholars to sociologically explore, discuss, and live Critical Race Theory. Graduate students eagerly embraced the opportunity, as many students over several cohorts have anxiously sought for a palpable way to sociologically investigate race and racism, a way that would be recognized, encouraged, and supported by the department. With this readiness, graduate students have taken the lead on conceptualizing and operationalizing this initiative, for both the current and future department community.

A working group, composed mainly of graduate students, was in place by November 2012. By February 2013, the working group had executed plans for an efficacious spring 2013 semester, the inaugural semester of the Critical Race Initiative. And what a successful inaugural semester it’s been! Following are the events that the Critical Race Initiative organized for this semester alone:

  •  On March 8 we held a brown bag presentation from Ana Claudia Pereira, a Fulbright Visiting Researcher at UMD and a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Rio de Janeiro State University in Brazil. Ana presented her work entitled “Objects of Racism, Subjects of Mobilization: Race Relations and Politics in Brazil Through the Eyes of Black Feminist Activists.”
  • On April 12 we held a scholarly discussion with our own Professor Collins. Collins presented her continuing work entitled “Crossing Over: Black Public Intellectuals in the Marketplace of Ideas.”
  • On April 26 we hosted a lecture by Professor Adia Harvey-Wingfield entitled No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men’s Work. Harvey-Wingfield is an associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University where she specializes in research that examines the ways intersections of race, gender, and class affect social processes at work. Her research has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, she is the author of several books, and has she has won multiple awards from sections of the American Sociological Association including the Early Career Award given by the Section of Racial and Ethnic Minorities.
  • On May 3, 2013 we held a brown bag panel presentation for sociology graduate students to present their ongoing work on the topic of race and/or ethnicity. Due to the high interest by graduate students, the committee had to narrow down the panel to four scheduled presentations, including work by: first-year Wendy Laybourn, second-years Ann Horowitz and Shanna Brewton-Tiayon, fifth-year Kathryn Buford, and ABD graduate student Michelle Beadle Holder.

Not only were these events well organized, they were also very well attended, with a high volume of participation! Attendees and participants included sociology undergraduate and graduate students, undergraduate and graduate students from various college and university departments, faculty and staff from our department and other departments, including assistant dean Dr. Kim Nickerson, and visiting scholars.

Wow! A lot of sociological exploration, discussion, and living of Critical Race Theory has been done in a few short months!

While we’ve accomplished a considerable amount in a short period of time, the working group is currently implementing plans for the next academic year, including: brown bags, workshops, presentations, activities, and guest lectures. We will keep our department community updated on all of our goings-on and are enthusiastic to see more of our community participate!

If you have any questions about the Critical Race Initiative and/or would like to begin participating in our meetings and planning, please email Shanna Brewton-Tiayon at sbtiayon@umd.edu. Joining the Critical Race Initiative is a great opportunity to become involved on the front end of what is bound to be a growing and increasingly productive embodiment of active scholarship. After all, as “we seek to empower and include traditionally excluded views and see all-inclusive as the ideal,” we need the “collective wisdom” of each of our department’s community members and areas. Yes, that means you!

** Bell, Derrick. 1995. “Who’s Afraid of Critical Race Theory?” University of Illinois Law Review 4: 893-910.

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