Miami has launched a university-wide initiative to explore the theme of Race and Racial Justice as part of its new FOCUS program.
Miami has launched a university-wide initiative to explore the theme of Race and Racial Justice as part of its new FOCUS program.

FOCUS gives the Miami community a chance to explore major topics with a closer look

The inaugural theme for the first year is Race and Racial Justice

By Carole Johnson, university news and communications

spherical view of the sundial with blue sky

Image by Scott Kissell

The Miami University community is invited to explore a “big idea” as FOCUS — a new multi-year initiative —launches this fall. 

There will be many ways to join the discussion in this year’s inaugural theme, Race and Racial Justice. It offers an exploration of race as a social concept and racism as a powerful and persistent feature of societies and social institutions, including Miami.

“FOCUS gives us a way to ask tough questions about a critical social issue while providing substantial programs and encouraging community outreach,” said Timothy Melley, director of the Humanities Center and professor of English.

Replacing what was Miami’s Summer Reading Program, FOCUS will examine new themes each year. Most importantly, FOCUS is for the entire Miami community and brings together resources, ideas, and activities from departments across the university. 

All programming is supported by the Office of the Provost, with this year’s theme led by the Humanities Center and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Each year, a university center will take the lead on different themes. 

“What makes Miami amazing is how we take a ‘big idea’ and create ways to make things happen,” said Carolyn Haynes, senior associate provost. “We wanted to give resources and time to faculty, staff, and students to not only generate ideas but put them into action.” 

This year’s FOCUS program includes dozens of lectures, performances, readings, workshops, and symposia featuring leading thinkers such as Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson, author of Caste. Keep up to date with the FOCUS events calendar: 

  FOCUS Public events calendar

These activities will be woven into more than 50 Miami University courses, diversity elements of the Global Miami Plan, research collaborations, co-curricular programs, and community outreach projects.

The FOCUS programming for the coming year "is a great example of how we can work to embed discussions of race and racial justice institutionally, providing engaging educational opportunities for all in our community to reflect and move Miami forward in our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion," said Cristina Alcalde, vice president for institutional diversity and inclusion. "I am excited about the opportunities the program will provide for everyone in our community."

This year’s program invites all Miamians to think about: 

  • What is the history of race as a concept and social category? How did it become, and how has it remained, an instrument for systemic inequity in modern societies? What is its role in the history of the United States and contemporary American society? How has it shaped Miami University? 
  • What are the social and ideological dimensions of contemporary racisms? How does racism work? What social systems perpetuate racial inequalities? 
  • How do race and racism relate to core social values such as community, justice, opportunity, and equity?
  • How have race and racism shaped knowledge structures in and beyond the university?
  • What measures are effective in eradicating racism, xenophobia and intolerance in our community and beyond? What action can we take now to make our communities and our society more just?

Melley hopes the program has lasting effects. The Humanities Center’s previous themed inquiry programs have resulted in permanent courses and programs of study.  

“The FOCUS program,” said Melley, “is designed to model the deep purpose of higher education. We are here to ask meaningful and difficult questions, to study them rigorously from many points of view, and to collaborate on making our world better.”   

The 2021-2022 FOCUS program is the result of unparalleled, campuswide collaboration

  • The Humanities Center will offer 10 public lectures by internationally recognized figures.
  • The University Lecture Series, Performing Arts Series, and departments across campus will contribute major public events.
  • Dozens of faculty members are developing curricula on the FOCUS theme of race and racial justice, and more than  50 courses will incorporate program events. 
  • Faculty teams are working on collaborative research and outreach projects.  A large group of faculty, working with the libraries, has applied for Boldly Creative funding to organize a multipronged approach to racial history at Miami. A new Humanities Lab team will work in a Cincinnati high school to test new teaching strategies to engage students in learning black history.

“Conversations about race and racial justice are not always easy, but we urgently need to have these conversations,” Melley said. “Confronting our history openly and honestly now is essential to our collective future.”