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The University Libraries has launched a multi-faceted program to advance racial equity, inclusion and antiracism within the organization and through its work.

The Reckoning Initiative makes good on a call to action by Elaine L. Westbrooks, vice provost for University Libraries and University librarian. Following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, Westbrooks wrote: “While this violence may seem far removed from our daily experience at the University Libraries, we do not work here in isolation. We have an obligation—and a great deal of work to do—in order to be part of the solution.”

“Reckoning is an opportunity to look at our values and aspirations as a library, to see where we have fallen short and to find ways to do better,” Westbrooks said about the Reckoning Initiative.

“When we fully embrace inclusive excellence, we become a stronger, bolder, more innovative organization,” Westbrooks said. “We become a place where everyone—employees, students, researchers—can be their best selves and do their best work, without obstacles or barriers.”

Driving the program is the University Libraries’ “Reckoning Initiative Framework,” which will guide efforts in five broad areas: education and training opportunities for Library staff; programmatic work; system analysis and change; integration of inclusion and antiracism into Library work; and tracking and assessment.

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Preserving the history of local Black communities

(Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Carolina students are helping the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History curate oral histories from members of Black communities in southern Orange County. “The work that we do is rooted in oral history,” said George Barrett ’14, the Jackson Center’s executive director.

Carolina students have had an opportunity to contribute to the center’s work as part of the University’s “Race and the Right to Vote in the United States,” an APPLES Service-Learning course in the College of Arts & Sciences’ political science department. Through the class, the students get a firsthand look — and listen — at history by serving as oral history processors for From the Rock Wall, an oral history website about Black Life in southern Orange County, housed at the Jackson Center.

The course examines how institutions have allowed the disenfranchisement of Black people and people of color in the U.S. throughout history. It also requires students to engage in a 30-hour public service experience related to the course’s themes.

Students working with the Jackson Center have processed oral histories by writing transcripts, abstracts and tape logs to accompany the histories on the From the Rock Wall website.“Students brought the necessary assistance of doing a lot of the processing,” Barrett said. “It can be a bit tedious, but it’s necessary to be able to have those oral histories fully processed.”

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Making faculty mentorship more equitable

Erin Malloy

Carolina’s TEAM ADVANCE seeks to strengthen faculty pipelines by boosting mentoring for women, especially women of color..

Housed in the Center for Faculty Excellence and working in partnership with the Carolina Women’s Center, TEAM ADVANCE — “TEAM” stands for “Targeting Equity in Access to Mentoring” — strives to achieve a culture of equitable mentoring across the University, specifically for women of color and white women in STEM and related disciplines. The project is funded by a $1 million National Science Foundation grant.

“Across our University, we’ve seen gender and racial inequities in terms of faculty progress,” said TEAM ADVANCE Lead-Principal Investigator Erin Malloy, director for the Center for Faculty Excellence and a professor in the School of Medicine’s psychiatry department. “So we applied for this grant with faculty mentoring in mind because we knew that all departments in our schools had been charged with developing mentoring plans for their faculty.”

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Department of Africa, African American and Diaspora Studies celebrates its first endowment

Nicci Gafinowitz (MSIS ’16) grew up in South Africa and traveled, studied and worked widely in the region. She and her family settled in Chapel Hill nearly 20 years ago; and while studying for her master’s degree in information science at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science, she met Eunice Sahle, associate professor and chair of the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies (AAAD) and associate professor in the Curriculum in Global Studies, at a Southeastern Regional Seminar in African Studies conference held at UNC. Like everyone who has come to know, work and study with Sahle, Gafinowitz deeply admires her depth of experience and understanding of African life, particularly from a human rights perspective, and her ability to meaningfully translate them to international audiences.

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In 2017, Sahle began planning a study abroad opportunity for undergraduates to study the dynamics of democratic governance and human rights in Malawi and Africa in general. Nicci become a strong supporter of that initiative and its attendant collaborative research project on socio-structural determinants of burn injuries in Malawi. Due to her advocacy, the College of Arts and Sciences and a long-time donor to the University provided financial support that made the 2018 summer study abroad program in Malawi possible at a very low cost to students and their families. Overall, for several years, the Gafinowitz family’s private gifts have contributed to AAAD’s mission in indelible ways.

Now, as Sahle prepares to step down as chair of the department after serving two terms, the Gafinowitz family has made a lasting pledge to the department in honor of Sahle’s excellence in teaching, research, leadership and mentorship that will last forever. They have created the Dr. Eunice N. Sahle Excellence Fund in African, African American and Diaspora Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I’ve had several opportunities to meet Dr. Sahle’s graduates, many of whom are now highly successful professionals and authors, as well as the Malawian and Kenyan judicial leaders who visit her classes in Chapel Hill; and I recognize in all of them the fondness, loyalty and respect they hold for her,” Gafinowitz said.

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The P’urhépecha podcasts

Maria Gutierrez, a postdoctoral research associate in the department of women’s and gender studies within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences, is descended from the P’urhépecha, an indigenous group from a region along the Pacific Coast called Michoacán. Their language is considered an isolate, which means it’s not connected with any other linguistic family in the Americas — or the world. While 15% of Mexico’s population identifies as indigenous, only 150,000 still speak P’urhépecha.

“There are these conceptions of the elders as the ones who possess the historical and cultural knowledge about the community,” Gutierrez says. “And what I want to do through my own research, through my own writing, through my own process as a community member, is to investigate those stories, to ask around, to approach elders, to approach my family to know more about my community and culture.”

In May 2020, Gutierrez was awarded an Emerging Voices Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. The one-year program placed her at Carolina, where she’s working remotely as a postdoctoral researcher with the Center for the Study of the American South and teaching a course in the department of women’s and gender studies. It also provided funding for her to pursue a podcast project to record the stories of P’urhépecha migrants.

The podcast is part of Gutierrez’s larger, overarching work with Radio Uekorheni (pronounced u-e-co-ren), a community radio station based out of Huecorio, Michoacán, Mexico. She joined the station in 2017 and has included it in her research projects ever since. “I was seeing community radio [programs] booming in other communities, and how they acted as a central platform for communication — not only within the community but migrants who leave and want to stay connected.”

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Applications soar, admissions boost diversity at UNC Gillings School

(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

In the last year, graduate program applications to the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health grew by 20%. Among those who identify as Black, Hispanic/Latinx or American Indian, the increase was 69%; this was accompanied by a 63% increase in admissions and a 129% increase in student deposits.

Some attribute this surging interest in health careers to the COVID-19 pandemic or the ‘Fauci Effect’ — a phenomenon linked to how Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

No doubt, that’s part of it. At Gillings, however, School leaders know there is more to the story.

“The pandemic is the worst collective experience that young people, especially — but not only the young — have faced,” says Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at the Gillings School. “Many responded to the global catastrophe by wanting to be part of the solution to this pandemic and to prevent the next one. The murder of George Floyd and deaths of other people of color at the hands of police also motivated many of our applicants, who are committed to overcoming health inequities.”

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