Ibram X. Kendi defends antiracism center after layoffs

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Scholar and activist Ibram X. Kendi defended the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, which he founded and directs, in a statement Friday after the center recently laid off more than half of its employees.

In the aftermath of the layoffs of 19 of the center’s 36 staff members, former employees have publicly slammed the center and accused it of having poor management, high turnover and underwhelming research despite tens of thousands of dollars donated to it since its 2020 launch. Boston University announced an inquiry into the center’s culture and grant management on Wednesday, The Boston Globe reported.

Kenneth Freeman, interim president of the university, said in an interview with BU Today that the inquiry isn’t a sign that the university is retreating from antiracist work, and “we are hopeful that CAR will emerge from this moment in a better position to sustainably pursue its scholarly work and antiracism teaching and policymaking.”

Kendi called the layoffs “the hardest decision” of his career in a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. He said the move wasn’t because of “financial distress” at the center but because the restructuring would better support the center “long-term.” He welcomed the university’s inquiry.

“I stand by my decision to take the long view for CAR, especially when racial and social justice organizations are under attack,” he wrote.

He said he plans for the center to pivot to hosting a residential fellowship program for “antiracist intellectuals, creators, and students” going forward.

He described the center as a “startup” that launched in the middle of COVID-19, which made “management and culture building more challenging.”

“Like many startups, we experienced rapid changes, and yes, we made missteps,” he said, adding that leaders of color and women tend to face heightened scrutiny. “But I want to live in a world where all leaders of new organizations are given the time to make mistakes and learn and grow.”


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