By Lucas Hubbard

September 15, 2020

The long-term effects of 2020 will depend on the degree to which individuals and institutions successfully adapt to and adopt the necessary alchemy of spinning crises into opportunities for connection, education, and reconstruction. By such standards, the Cook Center on Social Equity’s fall Global Inequality Research Initiative (GIRI) is right on track.

The semester’s focus, Race and Social Crisis, stems from the rising tensions of both the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the innumerable acts of state-sanctioned violence against Black men and women this spring and summer. Because of COVID-19 precautions, the Center’s course is taught via Zoom, but the remote nature of the course has allowed for guest speakers and student enrollment in ways that previous versions haven’t. Guest presenters for the semester will include speakers from North Carolina Central University, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Yale University, Cornell University, and Vanderbilt University, and program director Adam Hollowell also recorded an early-morning interview with Kunfeng Pan—a Faculty Affiliate at the Cook Center and an Associate Professor of Education at Renmin University in China—for students to view asynchronously.

“Teaching the course on Zoom has allowed us to integrate voices and ideas from around the country and the world in a way that we couldn’t have done with in-person lecture,” said Hollowell, who is also a senior research associate at the Cook Center. Hollowell is teaching the semester’s course with William A. Darity Jr., the Center’s director and the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics at Duke, and Jay Pearson, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Duke.

In addition to lecturers on topics like structural racism and racial bias, policing and incarceration, and racial equity at Duke and its surrounding area, the undergraduate and graduate students in the program work together in pairs to lead parts of the weekly discussions and to summarize and complement these discussions with additional questions and policy recommendations. Much of the class’ work will surround their research projects, all related in some way to race and America’s contemporary social crisis, which will be presented in late October and culminate in a capstone (also held over Zoom) in early November.

Beyond simply introducing students to advanced research, the class aims to set up students with a research paper that could be published in a peer-reviewed journal. With Duke’s abbreviated academic calendar ending the fall 2020 session before Thanksgiving, the additional weeks post-semester can help generate a path to publishing. Students who wish to pursue peer-reviewed publication for their research will convene with Darity and Hollowell for an (un-graded) workshop review in early December. As such, December for these GIRI students ought to provide a new flavor for 2020: optimism—as well as a tangible extraction of meaning and value from this turbulent year, and something to build on once these crises, hopefully, abate.

“The fun of being an instructor is working to match the students’ passion and inquisitiveness stride for stride,” said Hollowell. “It has been a delight to discover new ways of connecting with students and helping them grow, even in this unconventional learning environment.”