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Written by Megan Caron and Natasha Hanks

The UNC Adams School of Dentistry held its third annual Inclusive Excellence Week in late August. Inclusive Excellence Week was created in 2018 to encourage education and awareness of inclusion and equity. It represents the first of its kind at UNC-Chapel Hill and continues to provide a timely and relevant forum to address a crisis in America today. This year’s events included the Inclusivity-in-Art contest, a discussion on the book White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo, and the International Day “Flip Flop” video challenge. Among these events was a keynote lecture from William Sturkey, MA, PhD.

An associate professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill, Sturkey has expertise and scholarship of the history of race in the American South and working-class racial minorities. He is a past recipient of the university-wide Diversity Award for his significant contribution, time and effort of Carolina community members towards advancing an inclusive climate that encourages the evolution of our culture at the University. Sturkey is also the winner of the 2020 Zocalo Public Square Book Prize for his book “Hattiesburg.”

Sturkey’s discussion delved into the history of the University and its inextricable connection to race, as well as the reality of the campus’ real estate acquisitions and its commemorative landscape.

His presentation was grounded in the fact that the University was built from – and profited off – the institutions of slavery and racism. While the University has taken great strides in the last 100-150 years, he reminded the audience that it is important to acknowledge and reckon with that history and its connection to current events.

Sturkey piqued the audience’s interest through his research on the history behind the names of various landmarks, buildings and streets across campus and Chapel Hill. These landmarks and symbols are called the “commemorative landscape.”

He asked audience members what symbols and names they would want to show to a visitor that illustrated the University’s values – and pointed out that for many years, the University’s buildings and streets were named for individuals who fought against freedom and equality. For example, the Carr Building, constructed in 1900, was named for Julian Shakespeare Carr, a teenage Confederate soldier who was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

He called the audience to reflect on the Hippocratic oath of health professionals, specifically to “do no harm.” Sturkey illustrated how the use of slaves in the construction of the University in the 18th century inherently caused harm. While employees and students of the University today were not involved in its fraught past, he asked the audience to consider how our actions can build a better and more just society in the future.

The IE Week keynote also served as the kick off for the 2020 DOCSpeaks series, sponsored by Carolina Seminars. The purpose of DOCSpeaks is to bring bright minds and subject matter experts together to foster learning, inspiration and curiosity – and to provoke conversations that matter. The next presentation in the series is scheduled for September 28, 2020.


View Professor Sturkey’s keynote HERE.


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