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It’s Time to Unite for Truth: Support AAC&U’s TRHT Campus Centers for Giving Tuesday

Last spring, shortly after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, I received an email from a colleague. What, she asked, could she do to help?

How could she effect change in a world in which some people are the targets of hatred and violence because of their race, and where so many people of color are suffering during our global pandemic? What could one individual do to address racism, inequitable access to high-quality education, and other issues that for too long have plagued our nation?

As a Black man, I have personally experienced racism and the trauma that comes from being its target. I have endured questionable treatment during traffic stops; have been watched or repeatedly asked by a retail clerk, “May I help you with something?” for fear that I was shoplifting; and have avoided running in certain neighborhoods, to name just three examples.

The trauma associated with experiencing racism is real, and addressing this truth is an essential first step toward transforming society. But, like my colleague, I am just one individual. How can any one person or organization elevate the enormous issues of equity, antiracism, and democracy during this time that’s calling us to action?

One way is to “unite for truth” by supporting the work of those within the higher education community who are confronting racism.

Uniting with the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centers

The Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers effort includes twenty-five institutions that are preparing the next generation of strategic leaders and thinkers to break down racial hierarchies and dismantle the belief in the hierarchy of human value. By developing and implementing action plans with the transformative goal of erasing structural barriers to equal treatment and opportunity, the TRHT Campus Centers are already making an impact at their institutions, in our communities, and across the nation.

The TRHT effort at AAC&U needs help to reach its goal of raising $250,000 in pledges by Giving Tuesday on December 1. The campaign—called “Unite for Truth!”—aims to get the TRHT Campus Centers effort closer to its goal of establishing at least 150 self-sustaining, community-integrated centers.

Since 2017, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has worked with higher education institutions to create the initial TRHT Campus Centers with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), Newman’s Own Foundation, and the Papa John’s Foundation.

To effect change at their institutions and in their communities, TRHT Campus Centers are addressing the five pillars of the TRHT framework:

  • Narrative Change: Examining how the messages we communicate can influence people’s perspectives, perceptions, and behaviors, so we can work toward community-based change.
  • Racial Healing and Relationship Building: Considering ways to heal from the wounds of the past and to build respectful relationships across races and ethnicities.
  • Separation: Establishing ways to address segregation, colonization, and concentrated poverty, ensuring equal access to health, education, and jobs.
  • Law: Studying discriminatory civil and criminal laws and public policies and recommending ways to fairly apply the law.
  • Economy: Examining structural inequality and barriers to economic opportunities and suggesting approaches to promote equity.

Healing Campuses and Communities through TRHT

Since 2018, leaders from institutions with TRHT Campus Centers, or who are interested in establishing TRHT Campus Centers at their institutions, have gathered each year at the TRHT Campus Centers Institute to work together in expanding their efforts.

In June, as nationwide protests against racial injustice took place, a record number of institute participants gathered to identify evidence-based strategies to eliminate the belief in the hierarchy of human value. Nearly 440 leaders from 41 institutions took part.

In the summer, AAC&U released its trailblazing report, We Hold These Truths: Dismantling Racial Hierarchies, Building Equitable Communities, which presents narratives, models, and best practices from the initial cohort of ten TRHT Campus Centers that can inform efforts at other colleges and universities of all types.

According to Estrategia Group, the national evaluators of the TRHT Campus Centers effort, the centers have already reported impressive progress:

  • 100 percent have been able to identify and share information about improvements that resulted from their activities, and they’ve learned how these efforts apply to their campuses and communities.
  • 80 percent have identified and engaged community partners with their TRHT effort. Some campuses are focusing on internal healing and on understanding the narrative on race at their institutions first, and then will reach out to community partners.
  • 100 percent of the TRHT Campus Centers are engaging students, staff, and faculty.
  • The campuses have developed, or are developing, student-centered projects based on dismantling the belief in the hierarchy of human value.

The difference that the TRHT Campus Centers make in individual lives, institutions, and communities is proof that the effort is bolstering AAC&U’s strategic mission of making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy.

Support the TRHT Campus Centers

The work of the TRHT Campus Centers is needed more urgently than ever at this time when many of us are asking how we can acknowledge and overcome the historical legacies of racism that continue to harm people of color. Expanding this important work will require additional support:

  • $40,000 establishes a new TRHT Campus Center.
  • $30,000 funds an institutional subaward to support TRHT Campus Center start-up expenses.
  • $10,000 supports the participation of an institution’s team in the Institute on TRHT Campus Centers.

I hope you will join me in uniting for truth during AAC&U’s 2020 Giving Tuesday campaign by supporting the TRHT Campus Centers. When you give, you’re aligning with AAC&U to demonstrate your belief in the promise of a more just society. You’re signaling your support for our collective ability—working alongside community partners, colleges, and universities—to transform the racial narrative and heal the wounds of racism’s legacies. And you’re showing that one individual or one organization can make a difference.

You can contribute to the Unite for Truth! Campaign here.

Lorenzo Esters is vice president of advancement and member engagement at AAC&U.

Have an idea for a blog post? Write to dedman@aacu.org.

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