Law professor and social activist Adjoa A. Aiyetoro, whose life and career have been dedicated to racial healing, is the founding director of UALR’s new Institute on Race and Ethnicity, according to Chancellor Joel E. Anderson. Aiyetoro, who was selected following a national search, will assume the position July 1.
Aiyetoro, associate professor of the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law since 2004, has displayed a passion for racial justice throughout a career as a social worker, lawyer in the U. S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, director of administration at the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation’s National Prison Project, and executive director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers.
“Professor Aiyetoro brings together the passion, educational background, and leadership experience necessary to launch the institute and, together with other community leaders, guide Arkansas in our work for racial and ethnic justice,” said Anderson. “Our overarching goal is a better community for everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, and we are convinced we can achieve it sooner rather than later.”
Anderson established the institute last year to seek reconciliation as well as racial and ethnic justice in Arkansas by “remembering and understanding the past, informing and engaging the present, and shaping and defining the future,” according to the institute’s mission statement.
The culmination of four years of internal and community conversations, programming, research, and outreach on the subject of race, the new institute will address these issues through education, research, dialogue, community events, and reconciliation initiatives.
“I have embraced the view that people of color and white people must work together to obtain the racial healing that is essential to have a wholesome society,” Aiyetoro said. “I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to learn from and work with the many voices in Arkansas.”
The institute’s kickoff event will be as presenting sponsor of the July 10 50th anniversary celebration of the Freedom Riders in downtown Little Rock. The event honors the five black and white young people who rode into Little Rock on a Trailways bus on July 10, 1961, as part of a national youth movement to desegregate bus terminals in the South.
Born in St. Louis, Mo., Aiyetoro participated in demonstrations during her undergraduate years at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., working to promote the hiring and promotion of black employees in local corporations. She went to the Washington University George Warren Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis as a graduate student and began a career as a social worker. There, she worked to desegregate the maternity ward at the Barnes Hospital, where Medicaid patients – most of them black – were relegated to the second floor, where black women had been isolated during segregation.
At UALR, she is a member of the Chancellor’s Committee on Race and Ethnicity.
“As I worked on racial justice issues, I developed my belief that racial healing was necessary in order to address these large issues of racial disparities that are the evidence of institutionalized racism and the vestiges of historic oppression and exploitation of people of color, including African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos,” Aiyetoro said.
Anderson said Little Rock, the site of the 1957 Little Rock Central High Crisis, an iconic event of American civil rights history, is an ideal location for an institute dedicated to fostering racial justice and reconciliation.