Words from the Director

JCCurriculum Vitae

My appointment as Director of the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign is an opportunity to realize a major goal of my professional life; i.e., to create the links between scholarly research and social action that will help increase equity and the quality of life for racialized minorities in the U.S.* Specifically, I would like to see CDMS build upon its previous work and develop a set of research, teaching, service, and funding activities typically directed by UIUC faculty but also include the active participation of students, community members, and service providers. This participation combined with the resources available at UIUC can form the basis for CDMS becoming an UIUC center of excellence with a focus on the following areas:

  • Developing series of publications
  • Research and advocacy on diversifying higher education, especially at UIUC
  • Multidisciplinary research on democracy in a multiracial society
  • Engagement and service with communities of color in Illinois

A key aspect of achieving excellence involves publishing our work. CDMS has started a series of occasional publications that will be available through our website. I am also pleased to report that proceedings of a CDMS-sponsored conference will be published in a forthcoming special issue of the Landscape Journal (Spring, 2007) titled,“Constructing Race: The Built Environment, Minoritization, and Racism in the United States,” with Prof. Dianne Harris as the special guest editor. We are also supporting the publication of the papers from the CDMS conference called “Education or Incarceration? Schools and Prisons in a Punishing De-mocracy,” as an edited book.

Interdisciplinary research is a major component of the CDMS. With generous support from the Ford Foundation, the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society launched the “Documenting the Differences Diversity Makes” multidisciplinary research project in order to document empirical evidence of diversity’s benefits. In regards to the focus on diversifying higher education, we are writing the final report for project and partnering with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation to gather diversity- related data on other universities in the Midwest. We are also in the initial stages of planning a major higher education diversity conference in Spring 2008. At this very early point in time, the theme of the next conference could be “Documenting the Practices that Make a Difference in Achieving Diversity.” Furthering the Center’s advocacy on diversifying higher education. I recently had the privilege of making a presentation to the Illinois Board of Higher Education about the educational barriers and opportunities faced by Latinos in Illinois and beyond. While noting there is much variation, many Latinos do come from backgrounds that make educational success more difficult. These backgrounds may include low income levels, single-parent families, lack of full English fluency, parents with low levels of education, and perhaps an expectation to contribute to the household well-being by earning money or providing childcare. Moreover, Latinos are highly concentrated in low-performing schools with low levels of funding, dilapidated infrastructures, fewer educational resources and less experienced teachers. In higher education, lack of financial resources, unfamiliarity with the way higher education institutions work, and an unwarranted reliance on standardized tests all contribute to lower levels of Latino success. My research and the research of many others has shown that if Latinos’ educational and income levels do not improve, our entire society will be worse off.

One way in which the center is working to serve and engage the communities of color is through the third annual Multicultural Youth Conference which took place on October 25, 2006, in downtown Champaign. The aim of the conference was to provide local students, from grades seven through 12, with information and encouragement in preparing for higher education. Students and families attending the conference learned about the college admissions process, higher education funding, how to select a college major or career, and support services for students from underrepresented groups.

Additionally, CDMS is working with the local community around criminal justice and democracy. The Center recognizes that with more than 2 million of our citizens in prisons, and over 5 million on probation or parole, and millions of incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated men and women disenfranchised, the prison-industrial-complex dis-empowers the poor and people of color, thus undermining the quality and integrity of our democracy. CDMS has focused on this problem by sponsoring a series of events: a major national conference in 2004, panels about the death penalty in 2005, and a prison arts festival in 2006. In an effort to build on these past events and develop a multidisciplinary research, teaching, service and funding agenda CDMS started the Criminal Justice Action Network (CJAN) this fall. The goal of CJAN is to introduce interested community members, service providers, faculty, and graduate students to each other, to identify areas of mutual interest, and to enhance the local services for and research about imprisoned and formerly imprisoned people.

It is with great excitement that I look forward to working at the Center and reporting to you in future correspondences.

Jorge Chapa

Director

 

* I would like to thank Prof. Sundiata Cha Jua for suggesting this usage

 

Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society
1108 W Stoughton, Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: 217.244.0188 Fax: 217.333.8122 E-mail: cdms@illinois.edu