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Our Mission

Racial Justice at the Intersection: Connecting Disenfranchised Voices, Integrating Theory and Practice, Supporting Multi-Disciplinary Research

The mission of the Aoki Center is to honor the memory of Professor Keith Aoki by fostering multi-disciplinary scholarship and practice that critically examine the law through the lens of race, ethnicity, indigeneity, citizenship, and class. By integrating the scholarship of the King Hall faculty with the research of academics in other departments and schools across the UC Davis campus and by connecting critical race theory to the world of practice and policy, the Aoki Center seeks to deepen our understanding of issues that have a significant impact on our culture and society.  Inaugurated by faculty, staff, and students in the wake of Aoki’s untimely death in 2011, the Center was established to reflect Keith’s distinguished scholarship but also to remember his passion for art, music, advocacy, whimsy, and pure fun.

Message from the Founding Director

When I accepted the offer to join the UC Davis School of Law faculty in 2011, one of the things I was most looking forward to was having Keith Aoki as my colleague. To the shock and devastation of many of us, Keith passed away that spring, before I had a chance to see or talk to him again. As I settled into my new professional life at King Hall, however, it became evident that Keith’s restless and rigorous intelligence, his commitment to racial justice, his warmth, and his sense of fun had left an enduring legacy among faculty, students, and staff. When a small group of students and faculty began to meet and talk about our common interests in race, ethnicity, citizenship, and immigration in theory and in practice, it seemed obvious that our nascent Center should be named for Keith. Although he contributed to scholarship in many fields, his work connecting critical theory, race, and immigration issues was close to his heart. And Keith’s love for teaching made it all the more appropriate that a Center founded by students and faculty together should bear his name. I feel privileged to have played a role in bringing the Aoki Center to life, and I hope that somewhere, Keith is smiling.

- Angela P. Harris

Message from the Director

As the new director of the Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies, I am the recipient of three extraordinary gifts. The first is the opportunity to help guide a Center that is dedicated to the very issues that have defined my professional career. In my judgement, exposing and closing the gap between our country’s avowal of fairness and equality and the harsh reality of continuing discrimination and hierarchy is the paramount challenge facing our nation. The cross-fertilization of legal scholarship with the ideas and research of other disciplines and the use of theoretical work to inform practice and policy are powerful tools in this endeavor.

The second gift I have received is the honor to do work that is infused with the spirit of the late great Keith Aoki and the vision of the Center’s distinguished founding director, Angela Harris. Their brilliance, grace, and creativity have raised a bar that is too high for me to scale but serves as a daily reminder of my responsibility.  I had the immense pleasure of co-teaching Critical Race Theory with Keith at UC Berkeley School of Law some years ago and rarely have I witnessed a teacher with such imagination, exuberance, and devotion to his students. Angela was instrumental in my decision to leave my civil rights practice to enter the academy 16 years ago and since then has been my lodestar, my hero, and my good friend.

My third gift has been membership in the community of Martin Luther King Jr. Hall, a law school that is devoted to the ideals of its namesake in both theory and practice.  Under the leadership of Dean Kevin Johnson, a majority of its faculty are people of color and the culture of the institution is one of public service. Although it ranks as an elite law school its ethos is one of kindness and unpretentiousness. Many of its talented lawyers in training are the first in their families to attend university, and the diversity of its student body is celebrated. Moreover, because the reach of the Aoki Center extends across the UC Davis campus, I have the additional privilege of continuing to work with some of the scholars I have known for years and learning from many others I am meeting every day.  

- Mary Louise Frampton