Agnes Scott College, founded as a women’s college in 1889, has been educating its students to “think deeply, live honorably, and engage in the social challenges of their times” for over a hundred years. This mission is no different today as the nation experiences renewed calls for racial and social justice.
In higher education, these calls to action often result in increased demand for antiracism programming and advocacy opportunities for faculty, staff, students, and community members. As one of twenty-nine colleges and universities selected to host Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers in partnership with AAC&U, Agnes Scott College is focusing on truth-telling while also educating and collaborating with communities on campus and beyond. In the 2020–21 academic year, our work has focused on three initial strategies: (1) taking a deeper look at our past in order to transform our future, (2) hosting conversations with experts and local leaders about race and antiracism, and (3) engaging in antiracist education and advocacy with communities beyond campus.
Taking a Look at Our Past
Over the past year, as the country reeled from the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery—as well as recent attacks against Asians in our own nearby Georgia communities—Agnes Scott students, faculty, and staff have spent a significant amount of time researching and shedding light on the college’s past, including an investigation into the historical legacies of the people whose names adorn campus buildings and a thorough inventory of images and language published in student newspapers, yearbooks, and alumnae magazines. This research discovered racist imagery and language published over the course of the college’s history.
Offensive language and images—regardless of the year, time, intent, or context—are hurtful, particularly to our Black students, faculty, staff, and community members. To ensure that learning from the past continues to inform our future, Agnes Scott President Lee Zak shared a message with our community promising to ensure transparency and to explicitly reject the racist images and content. The college’s librarian and archivist also labeled and contextualized the publications within the college’s archives to assist with future research.
Engaging with Antiracism Experts on Campus
In fall 2020, Agnes Scott’s TRHT Campus Center developed a four-part Courageous Conversations series to lay the groundwork for allies across different racial groups to discuss antiracism as a sustained effort for structural change rather than as a single event or initiative.
“Antiracist Work Begins at Home,” the first Courageous Conversation, explored reasons White people may have a difficult time talking about race and privilege, while also giving participants the tools to counter these challenges and allow for better allyship.
The second conversation, “Local Leaders Take Action to Combat Racism,” brought together a mayor, county commissioner, and chamber of commerce executive from Decatur and Dekalb County, Georgia, to discuss how these leaders are committing to tackle racism in the community and how members of the community can hold elected officials accountable.
“Tackling Social Injustice: Strategies for Action,” the third conversation, brought several community activists together to discuss the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and to share practical strategies for participants to spur or ignite community action against structural racism.
As we all know, representation matters. The final conversation featured Agnes Scott’s four Black vice presidents and presidential cabinet members as they discussed the challenges they face as Black women administrators, gave advice for students to overcome these challenges in their own education and careers, and explored how diversity within a college’s administration can advance inclusive and just environments on campus.
Engaging Communities beyond Campus
Shortly after we announced our Courageous Conversation series, administrators at a high school located across the street from Agnes Scott reached out to staff at our TRHT Campus Center. In response to several racially charged incidents, the high school’s students had called on their administrators to do more to support students of color. The high school’s librarian collaborated with staff from our TRHT Campus Center and an associate professor of sociology, Regine Jackson, to coordinate a town hall event where students could learn the basics of antiracism, ask hard questions, hold administrators accountable, and demand change. The town hall is a perfect example of how our nation’s youth are advocating for each other and seeking change when they feel it has been denied for far too long.
Another notable TRHT community partnership occurred in November 2020 during Native American History Month. The Agnes Scott TRHT Campus Center partnered with a local organization dedicated to antiracism, the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, to host a community conversation titled “This Land Tells A Story: Decatur’s Indigenous-African Connection.” Participants discussed and circulated a community petition to remove a cannon at the Decatur City Square that commemorates the 1836 “Indian War,” part of the genocidal removal of Muscogee (Creek) Native Americans from the state of Georgia. In December, Decatur’s city commissioners voted in favor of the county removing the cannon, which sits on county property.
These efforts over the past year have allowed the TRHT Campus Center and Agnes Scott community to intentionally align our work with that of many community partners. By joining arms in action with allies, we are working toward racial healing and building a better future for ourselves and future generations.