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Junior Faculty, Students, Launch 'Black Think Tank'

Networking effort part of building 'inclusive excellence' at Duke

Dean Valerie Ashby (left) and Vice Provost Abbas Benmamoun (back to camera), spoke with Patrice Douglass, Gustavo Silva and Jarvis McInnis at the kick off of Black Think Tank.
Dean Valerie Ashby (left) and Vice Provost Abbas Benmamoun (back to camera), spoke with Patrice Douglass, Gustavo Silva and Jarvis McInnis at the kick off of Black Think Tank.

With a Wednesday reception and the launch of a new website, Black Think Tank kicked off at Duke this week. It’s an effort supported by seed money from the Provost’s Office of Faculty Advancement that seeks to connect and promote black faculty of all ranks from all parts of the university.

“This is a site made by us, for us,”  co-founder Jarvis McInnis, an assistant professor of English, said at the at the kickoff reception in the Holsti-Anderson Room in Rubenstein Library.

The organizers of the Black Think Tank hope to connect faculty, highlight their scholarly work and accomplishments, provide access to resources on campus and offer a new way to connect for interdisciplinary work.

The new network was the brainchild of McInnis and Gustavo Silva, an assistant professor of biology from Brazil, who met at new faculty orientation in the summer of 2017 and immediately hit it off. Both were impressed by the celebration that fall of 50 years of black faculty at Duke and began to talk about how to carry that momentum forward.

As the idea matured, they recruited another new faculty member, assistant professor Patrice Douglass of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, and hired political science graduate student Chloe Ricks and Fuqua MBA student Ikenna Ugwu to help. The name Black Think Tank was initially a placeholder, McInnis said, but as time went on, they found they couldn’t come up with anything that worked better.

“I am so grateful that you guys are establishing this,” Trinity College Dean Valerie Ashby said at the reception. “Diversity in every sense of the word helps scholarship move forward,” she said. “Our job is to maximize your experience at Duke.”

Dean Ashby scored some Black Think Tank swag at the event.
Silva said the group’s goals for next year include more networking events and collaborative research projects. He and McInnis are already getting started on their first research project together with religious studies associate professor Joseph Winters: An examination of race, genetics and culture from the African diaspora that compares the state of Bahia, Brazil and the U.S. South.

The new site launched by prominently honoring pioneering black Duke faculty members, political scientist Samuel DuBois Cook, historian John Hope Franklin and pediatrician Brenda Armstrong.

“This is consistent with what we’re trying to do in the Office of Faculty Advancement,” said Abbas Benmamoun, the vice provost for the office. Duke is seeking “inclusive excellence,” programs for all faculty and an inclusive and respectful climate, he said.

“I don’t like the word ‘welcome,’ because it implies you are a guest here,” Benmamoun said. The goal of inclusiveness is to provide every member of the Duke community with a sense of ownership and belonging, and the Black Think Tank should help with that, he said.

“You are doing a service for Duke,”  Ashby told the organizers.