ASU center to study race, democracy

Arizona is often criticized for what some call racially influenced legislation, but a new center at ASU could make it the hub of understanding race’s role in democracy.

Matthew Whitaker, an associate professor of history, is the founding director of the new Center for Study of Race and Democracy, which held its ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday on the Tempe campus.

“It aims to help those understand what race and democracy is based upon,” Whitaker said.

The center will analyze the relationship between race and democracy through research, he said.

The center will collaborate with other departments within ASU as well as policymakers, businesses and nonprofits to examine and understand the influence of race on public policy, Whitaker said.

In a state that is a hotspot for immigration reform, Arizona is a suitable place for the center, he said.

“People have limited knowledge,” Whitaker said. “I can’t think of a state that needs [the center] more than Arizona.”

Race seems to play an explicit and implicit role in legislation as well as interactions, he said, and he wants ASU students to walk away from college being educated and aware of its role and how to redefine it.

“Race exists only in the mind,” he said.

Education sophomore Ariana Abbarello believes Arizona’s proximity to Mexico causes the country and its citizens to have an influence in the state’s legislation.

“Arizona is so close to Mexico it seems that many laws and legislation is based against Hispanic immigrants,” she said.

Issues of race and immigration weave their way throughout not just reform, but the lives of Arizona citizens, urban planning sophomore Anna Thurston said.

“Whether we like to admit it or not, race plays a large role in lawmaking here,” Thurston said. “It’s a part of our lives.”

With the center, Whitaker hopes to spread understanding among students, and hopes they will shape policymaking and the future of democracy with their understanding of baseless assumptions.

U.S. Congressman Ed Pastor spoke at the ceremony launch on Monday, and the center plans to hold regular events and conferences to assess and generate opinions on current American democracy, open to all ASU students.

“We need understanding so we can move forward,” Whitaker said.

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