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Dina Okamoto works to create a ‘community of scholars’ on the IU Bloomington campus

Sept. 28, 2016

The 2016 presidential election has sparked discussions surrounding race and ethnicity -- so much so that IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel introduced a “Hot Topics” series last semester to encourage campus conversations on inclusion.

Among those on the steering committee who choose the discussion topics is Dina Okamoto, an IU sociology professor and director of IU’s Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society.

Dina Okamoto

Dina Okamoto sits on the steering committee for IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel's "Hot Topics" series. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IU COMMUNICATIONS

The center was designed to create a community of scholars, where IU scholars across different disciplines could come together and discuss their research findings regarding race and ethnicity. In turn, they strive to promote the research being done here at IU and train the next generation of scholars to operate in this same manner of community. 

“People are researching on this topic in their own disciplines, yet not having something institutional to bring them together was something that was missing from campus,” Okamoto said. “The center creates opportunity for connections and conversations that are fruitful for scholars’ thinking and research.” 

Now, four years after its creation, the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society focuses on topics important both to students on campus and to the nation. Okamoto said much of the talk in the media around immigration, specifically how immigrants integrate into society, isn’t based on facts and research. One of Okamoto's main goals for the center is to create an avenue for IU scholars to enter those public debates and conversations regarding race, ethnicity, inclusion and belonging. 

A first step to that goal is implementing such a culture here on campus.

The idea for the center started from a grassroots movement of students who wanted a place for more community and more discussions about race and ethnicity, Okamoto said. But she said the biggest issue is that those signing up for classes revolving around race and ethnicity and attending lecture series aren’t necessarily the ones who need to be learning about these topics and the research behind them.

“The problem is when we don’t talk about it, many take the view of, ‘It’s not a problem on campus’ or, ‘It doesn't affect me.’ There needs to be a broader discussion so it becomes something we all talk about and understand. We need to continue to have public conversations and discussions about race in a deeper way than simply what we see in media headlines.

“We need to create a culture where we understand that other people's problems do affect us. Then, other people's problems and issues become our problems and issues, and we want to understand these problems in a deeper way. Then, we can see change,” Okamoto said.

Creating such open dialogue surrounding race and inclusion, but also rooting those discussions in research, will go a long way toward reaching the broader goal of a more inclusive world, which is what Okamoto hopes to accomplish as the director of the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society. 

“We hope to disseminate this information on campus, to other parts of the community and also to the state of Indiana, if not nation-wide,” Okamoto said. 

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