Racial Data Lab to Combat Racist Policy-making

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, December 1, 2020 — The Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS) and the Center for Antiracist Research (CAR) at Boston University (BU) are pleased to announce the launch of the Racial Data Lab, a joint venture that will marry racial research and data science to pioneer and lead the field of racial data science. The Racial Data Lab is a unique endeavor that leverages two BU strengths: our significant research and education footprint in computing and data science and our expertise in antiracist research under the leadership of renowned scholar Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.

The need for research that exposes racist policy implications and informs policy makers and the public on antiracist alternatives could not be more urgent. Whereas traditional research on racism has focused on what is wrong with people, antiracist research now asks a different question, and a better question: “What is wrong with policies?” Framing research on racism around antiracist questions leads to antiracist narratives, impactful advocacy, and effective policy solutions. To that end, data is key to understanding the historical patterns and predicting future outcomes to achieve an antiracist future.

For its initial focus, the main project of the new Lab is the Racial Data Tracker (RDT). RDT aims to develop and maintain the nation’s largest online database of racial inequity data, presented to the public in the form of infographics. Building on the proven model from the COVID Racial Data Tracker, RDT will track, visualize, and analyze racial inequities in real time across multiple sectors of society, including criminal justice, economics, health, and education. A consistent tracking and breaking down of evidential data will ultimately reveal trends that policymakers, media professionals, and everyday citizens can use to enact change.

“I’m excited about leveraging BU’s capacities in computing and data sciences toward the development of platforms for the collection, curation, and analysis of comprehensive data sets that shed light on racial injustices,” says Ibram X. Kendi, Founding Director of the Center for Antiracist Research and Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities.

Committed to becoming the leading trainer and producer of racial data scientists in the world, the newly announced Racial Data Lab will require a large and diverse team of faculty, students, and experts from a variety of fields, including data science, software engineering, web development, data journalism, and visualization. The Lab will leverage and build upon the significant experiences and successes of the BU Spark! programs in CDS, including its robust set of curricular and co-curricular experiential learning pathways that engage students, external partners, and faculty in computing and data science in projects on equity and racial justice.

Reflecting on the launch of the Racial Data Lab, Azer Bestavros, Associate Provost for CDS and Warren Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of Computer Science says, “I recall the first time Ibram shared with me his bold vision for establishing BU as the center of the universe when it comes to making data a currency of research on race and racism. Today, a pandemic and a racial awakening later, it is both exciting and befitting for the Racial Data Lab to be CDS’ first co-Lab launched as a partnership with the Center for Antiracist Research.”

To support the research and development work of the Racial Data Lab, CAR and CDS will collaborate on the identification of a core set of faculty investigators and on the recruitment of technical support and program management staff. Moreover, CDS and CAR will collaborate on the development of instructional capacity in support of curricular programs to be launched in the near future to train the next generation of racial data scientists.