MLK Commemorative Lecture: Racial justice after affirmative action

This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Lecture will focus on the future of racial justice in higher education – at a time when current race-conscious admissions practices are under fire.

Richard T. Ford, a Stanford University law professor, will lead the event, “Derailed by Diversity: Racial Justice after Affirmative Action,” on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in Sage Chapel.

With the Supreme Court considering the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions, Ford will highlight the importance of colleges and universities improving access for historically marginalized communities.

Ford, a leading expert on civil rights and antidiscrimination law, wrote last year in an essay for The Chronicle of Higher Education that the quest for diversity “… has encouraged us to ignore and minimize past injustices and distorted our understanding of what justice requires today.”

Latesha Fussell, director of diversity and inclusion in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, and a member of the event’s planning committee, agrees.

“We are now at a crossroads in history where colleges and universities need to demonstrate their commitment to racial justice in an intentional and meaningful way,” Fussell said. “Higher education will have to move away from statements of solidarity and toward action that will welcome and serve historically minoritized communities.”

Ford will discuss how current legal notions of diversity have limited affirmative action and suggest new ways universities can advance racial equity and cultivate inclusive communities.

“With the pandemic and now with the Supreme Court admissions case, admissions practices in higher education are in a state of significant change and uncertainty,” said Joel Harter, associate dean of students for spirituality and meaning-making and director of Cornell United Religious Work, one of the event’s organizers.

“Many schools are reexamining their admissions practices, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration committee felt this was an appropriate time to consider access, equity and racial justice in college admissions practices,” Harter said.

Following the keynote, Sean Eversley Bradwell, Ph.D. ’08, assistant professor of education at Ithaca College, will lead a conversational Q&A.

This event will be in person and available to livestream through advanced registration. A recording will also be available for those who register for the livestream.

The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration at Cornell aspires to be a cross-campus and community partnership that makes accessible the life and legacy of King for contemporary times. The event is sponsored by the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making and Cornell United Religious Work, the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, Cornell Law School and Greater Ithaca Activities Center, with additional support from Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, College of Architecture, Art and Planning, David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement, and SC Johnson College of Business.

Listen to a recent interview with Richard T. Ford on "All Things Equal" here.

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Rebecca Valli