President Gregory J. Vincent ’83 – a national leader on civil rights, social justice and campus culture –recently served as the keynote speaker at two forums addressing issues of equity, justice and race in Akron, Ohio.
As featured speaker of the celebrated Akron Roundtable, Vincent delivered the keynote address “Memory and Monuments in the Public Space” through which he discussed the impact that monuments and statues have in public spaces, particularly on college campuses. Following the Roundtable, Vincent also served as the keynote speaker for The University of Akron’s Rethinking Race Series, delivering the presentation “Charlottesville: The Call for a More Civil Society.”
Vincent’s Roundtable talk will air on WKSU 89.7 FM at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22. Streaming is available online. His appearance also made headlines and attention on social media, including the Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio.com) article “Monuments speak volumes about our past.”
“It is important to distinguish between learning from and honoring the past,” Vincent said during the Akron Roundtable. “The memories that monuments evoke can be personal, societal or even global, but their placement is also important. When placed on a public college campus, what does that mean for the learning environment of the students?”
Vincent said honoring the past can serve as an opportunity to reflect on heroes and leaders, but certain depictions can bring up a “…troubled time in our history, reminding us that in the not-so-distant past there were moments of injustice, inequality and hatred.” We need to think deeply about “the placement of statues that honor the past,” Vincent said.
Founded in 1976 as a “community forum to encourage and bring bold, creative and new ideas to the region,” the Akron Roundtable has invited hundreds of leaders in business, government, civic and educational institutions and the arts to share their expertise with the Akron community.
In his remarks at the Rethinking Race Series, Vincent reflected on the contours of free speech in higher education and how they are “… being challenged by hate speech, political correctness and protests.”
“What happened in Charlottesville marks an important shift in how free speech will be governed on college campuses from now on,” Vincent said. “Higher education leaders need to make sure that we are balancing the rights granted to our constituents with the safety and security of our student population. Charlottesville created other issues within and outside the scope of higher education and relevant to the problems our society is facing today: a decline in civility.”
UA’s Rethinking Race forum explores race and race-related issues, incorporating films, performances and “Face-2-Face Conversations,” as well as keynote speakers to engage the public with important topics such as diversity in the workplace and awareness of issues and culture. The talk took place at the McDowell Law Center, home to UA’s School of Law.
Vincent’s Rethinking Race appearance was noted on Cleveland.com, Akron.com, The University of Akron website and UA’s student paper, Buchtelite. President and CEO of State and Federal Communications, Inc. Elizabeth Z. Bartz and Executive Director Community Legal Aid Steven McGarrity were among those who tweeted about the Roundtable.
The Akron talks also coincided with Vincent’s induction into Omicron Delta Kappa, the National Leadership Honor Society. ODK was founded at Washington and Lee University in 1914 to recognize distinguished leaders in academia and today sponsors active chapters across the nation.
Vincent has devoted his career to equity and justice, both in education and in the wider public arena. His scholarship and teaching explore issues of educational equity and access, as well as diversity in higher education, engagement between communities and universities, and workplace discrimination.
Prior to joining HWS as president in 2017, Vincent served at The University of Texas at Austin as Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement, W.K. Kellogg Professor of Community College Leadership and Professor of Law. At UT-Austin, he presided over the university’s division of diversity and community engagement, now regarded as a national model. In 2016, Vincent played a major role in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, in which the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the use of affirmative action in higher education.
As Ohio’s assistant attorney general in the early 1990s, Vincent successfully argued several major civil rights cases before that state’s Supreme Court. He went on to serve as director for regional and legal affairs at the Ohio Civil Rights Commission in Cleveland and later as vice president and lead counsel for Bank One.