Professor Sharon L. Davies has been selected as the next director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University, replacing founding executive director john powell, who leaves the institute’s top leadership position at the end of December.
Through interdisciplinary research and other working partnerships, the Kirwan Institute seeks to deepen the understanding of the causes and consequences of racial and ethnic disparities in order to stimulate change to bring about a society that is fair and just for all people. The institute was established in May 2003 and named for former university president William E. “Brit” Kirwan in recognition of his efforts to champion diversity.
Davies, the John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Professor in Law at the Moritz College of Law, is a leading scholar in race and criminal law. She was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and Notes and Comments editor of the Columbia Law Review while attending Columbia University School of Law. Davies was an associate attorney for Steptoe and Johnson in Washington, D.C. and Lord, Day & Lord Barrett Smith in New York City, and she later served as assistant United States attorney in the criminal division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Davies, who came to Moritz in 1995, will continue as a member of the College’s faculty as she assumes her new role at the Kirwan Institute.
“Sharon Davies brings incalculable expertise to Ohio State, and we are fortunate that she has accepted this critically important role,” Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee said. “Under Professor Davies’ leadership, the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity will continue to grow in the essential work it conducts to improve our neighborhoods, our nation, and beyond.”
Davies said her interest in the Kirwan Institute dates back to her work on the search committee that identified powell as the institute’s first director.
“Since its founding, the Kirwan Institute has forged links among scholars and social justice thinkers from across campus and around the country who collectively have deepened our understanding of the roots of persistent racial and ethnic disparities and the life-limiting effects of racial isolation,” Davies said. “Kirwan has used that knowledge to help inform the policy decisions of federal, state and local officials and community organizers striving to create the conditions for a just and inclusive society in which all persons have an equal chance to thrive.”
In 2010, Davies published Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America, which examined the consequences of prejudice through the story of the murder of a Catholic priest, James Coyle, and the subsequent trial of the Rev. Edwin Stephenson. Coyle wed Stephenson’s daughter, who converted to Catholicism, to a Puerto Rican migrant and practicing Catholic. The Kirwan Institute supported the research and writing phases of the book.
“Over the last 16 years at Ohio State, my desire to focus my research, scholarship, and teaching in ways that would have a positive impact on marginalized communities has intensified,” Davies said. “The director position offers me an unmatched opportunity to work with a talented group of academics and researchers in pursuit of that goal.”
Davies plans to continue the work for which the institute is renowned in addition to expanding its research in the areas of criminal justice, immigration, and health care.
A committee comprised of representatives from Moritz, the Kirwan Institute, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Office of University Outreach and Engagement conducted the nationwide search for the institute’s next leader. The committee, chaired by Professor Nancy Rogers, the Michael E. Moritz Chair in Alternative Dispute Resolution, submitted a report to vice provosts Susan Williams and Valarie Lee.
“Sharon Davies is a highly respected legal scholar, who understands the importance of Kirwan’s work to create opportunity for all within a just and inclusive society,” said powell, who does not capitalize his name. “As I prepare to assume my new position as director of the Haas Diversity Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, I anticipate many future opportunities for collaboration with the Kirwan Institute and with Sharon as we do our important shared work.”
The Gregory H. Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at Moritz, powell is recognized internationally as an authority in the areas of civil rights and civil liberties. He previously founded and directed the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota and is one of the cofounders of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.
Under powell’s leadership, The Kirwan Institute has taken a national leadership role in researching,
developing, and advocating for regional solutions to problems associated with racialized space. powell developed an “opportunity‐based” housing model that provides a critical and creative framework for thinking about affordable housing, racialized space, and how an individualʹs destiny is impacted by where they live.
Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph A. Alutto said, “Thanks to Professor powell’s foundational work, the Kirwan Institute is poised to assume an even more prominent presence nationally. The University is fortunate to have a leader with Professor Davies’ vision, expertise, and experience to lead us forward.”
In evaluating powell’s work at the Kirwan Institute during the past nine years, Davies said it has been a “humbling experience” that “makes me feel the sting of his upcoming departure more keenly.”
“We have learned a great many things from john; too many to list. But if there is one central take-away from his work it is this: The key to fighting racial and ethnic disparities in our communities, the challenge of combating racial isolation, embracing diversity, and equalizing the life chances of all of America’s children lays in deepening our understanding of our shared fate,” Davies said. “No system that abandons wide swaths of its citizenry to poverty, joblessness, unsafe neighborhoods, and inadequate schools, can hope long to thrive. Each and every one of us is rightly included within the circle of human concern.”