As many as 15 to 20 staff members are being laid off at the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, which is led by prominent activist and scholar Ibram X. Kendi, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The person said the money that has been used to employ the staff members will be redirected to provide funding to visiting scholars who are already employed. The layoffs take effect later this year.
In a statement, BU spokesman Colin Riley confirmed the layoffs. He said the center is “evolving to a fellowship model” and would offer details on “this new direction” soon.
Kendi will remain the research center’s director. Riley said BU and the center are “committed to working with and supporting affected employees as they look for their next opportunities.”
BU and Kendi founded the center in 2020 amid widespread protests over police brutality and a national reckoning over issues of race. The center grew to include multiple offices that spanned policy and data research, and an archived version of the center’s website from July listed 45 employees.
Those staff pages were no longer active Thursday.
BU announced that Kendi was joining the faculty and launching the center in June 2020, just as protests began sweeping the nation following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The BU center was pitched as a novel and progressive way for the university to contribute to ongoing conversations around race in America. It has researched antiracist policies, tracked data related to racial disparities in America, and analyzed racial justice advocacy efforts. Its website describes the center as a place where “academic research meets antiracist action.”
The center also collaborated with The Boston Globe’s opinion section to launch The Emancipator, a digital racial justice-focused publication, in 2021. The site has published independently of the Globe since the spring. It will continue to publish and was not affected by the layoffs, Riley said.
Kendi has been known for years as a leading scholar in the field of antiracism. In his 2019 book How to be an Anti-Racist, Kendi wrote: “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.”
His books jumped onto bestseller lists in 2020, and he was on Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People of 2020. Since then, the issue became a central culture war topic, and some parents and officials in multiple states have tried to ban some of his books from school libraries as part of a fight against “critical race theory.”
Kendi previously taught at American University and the University of Florida.