The University Council for Education Administration (UCEA) has named Laurence J. Parker, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Utah, the 2023 recipient of its Linda C. Tillman Social and Racial Justice Award
The award honors Parker for his contributions to fostering diversity, equity and justice across the educational spectrum, including the field of educational leadership in both K-12 and higher education, and his scholarship around Critical Race Theory (CRT), particularly his groundbreaking piece “Race Is …. Race Ain’t,” published in 2020.
The award is named in honor of education scholar Linda C. Tillman, with whom Parker worked during his early academic career in the late 1980s, when both were assistant professors, Tillman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Parker at Temple University.
“Linda and I were really doing a lot of work tirelessly fighting for racial and social justice in the UCEA organization, as well as in education overall for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] students in K-20,” Parker said. “Because the award is in her name, it has a special meaning for me.”
Parker hopes the honor will call attention to the importance of diversity and racial justice in the current climate of higher education, where attacks and injustices take a particular psychological, emotional, social and professional toll on students of color. It can be seen in the classrooms, in lower graduation rates, and when students describe their day-to-day college experiences.
“I want to change that narrative, particularly for BIPOC students, whether it’s SPED, LGBTQ+, kids without a residence, low-income kids, Black kids, Latinx kids,” he said. “There are many failure tropes associated with these groups, and I’m about working with school leaders, graduate and undergraduate students to break out of those assumptions.”
The social change it will take to shift the university landscape includes something Parker has prioritized since his days working alongside Tillman: disrupting the normalization of failure for BIPOC students, and working with any graduate student whose research aims to do the same.
“Parker introduced me to the publishing process and conference circuit 15 years ago and now supports my efforts to do the same with the next generation of scholars of color, queer scholars, and first-gen students,” said U colleague Erin Castro. “I always know that I have Parker in my corner and there is a certain kind of confidence that comes from that unconditional love; no way would I have been able to start a prison education program at this institution without his support and mentorship and quite frankly, his guidance.”
In considering the way this award mirrors the U’s College of Education and the way it will contribute to his legacy as a scholar, Parker hopes it will inspire interested parties across campus to unify in their efforts to increase the number of BIPOC students graduating within six years.
“My hope is that we can use the symbol and spirit of this award—that we can all pull together and say, ‘How can we get this to work?’” he said. “This award was around racial justice for students; we’re doing students an injustice to keep letting them fail. We’ve got to change that.”