Introducing the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centers

Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centers

Preparing the next generation of leaders to advocate justice and build equitable communities

AAC&U News, January/February 2018

On January 19–23, 2018, more than one hundred faculty, staff, and students from the first ten Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers and nineteen visiting institutions attended the inaugural TRHT Institute, a five-day professional development program focused on preparing TRHT Campus Center action plans.

In her opening remarks at the TRHT Institute, Luz Benitez Delgado, program officer with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, reminded the audience of the immediacy and importance of this work. Supported through funding from Newman’s Own Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the TRHT Campus Centers will engage and empower campus and community stakeholders to uproot the conscious and unconscious biases and misbeliefs that have exacerbated racial violence and tension in American society.

AAC&U is guiding the development of TRHT Campus Centers on college and university campuses around the country, with the goal of creating 150 centers, to ensure that the next generation of strategic leaders and critical thinkers is prepared for and focused on dismantling the belief in the hierarchy of human value.

Established by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation is a national, community-based process to engage citizens in racial healing and catalyze efforts to address current inequities grounded in notions of a racial hierarchy. Based on techniques such as racial healing circles, which were adapted from the practices of indigenous communities, the TRHT framework prioritizes relationship building and narrative change.

“I try never to talk about race because I feel that there's only one human race,” Benitez Delgado said. “I talk about racism, and TRHT is about eliminating racism. And how is TRHT going to do that? By jettisoning the belief in racial hierarchy, which is based on skin color, the country you come from, or your physical characteristics.”

As educators of the world’s future leaders, the TRHT Campus Centers are ideally situated to address these issues, said Faith Fennelly, grants manager with Newman’s Own Foundation. “Without addressing the structural racism that's built into institutions such as education, it's never going to change,” she said.

Over the next three years, the progress and growth of the TRHT Campus Centers as they effect change in their communities will be evaluated through “rigorous reflection,” said Jessica Estévez, vice president of Estrategia Group, which is providing external evaluation of the Campus Centers.

Estévez believes that the transformative nature of these ten TRHT Campus Centers, which are introduced in the section below, makes them the perfect places to lead the country in this process of healing.

“There are very few people that I have met that have gone through higher education that haven't walked away having learned something about themselves, and/or healed a wound in their journey,” she said.

Introducing the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centers

  • The TRHT Campus Center at Austin Community College (ACC), a two-year college in Austin, Texas, will examine the college’s own role in fostering unconscious racial hierarchies inside and outside of the college.

    “Higher education is a beautiful societal good, but its institutional and structural racism can also inflict damage and trauma,” said Stephanie Hawley, associate vice president in the Office of Equity and Inclusion. “At this juncture in history, higher education must lead in the undoing of racism and bring to light what's happened, and then move forward.”

    The TRHT Campus Center at ACC hopes to move this healing forward by engaging the wider community in discussions to build more positive narratives and address lingering inequities caused by racial hierarchies, including those reflected in low retention and completion rates for students of color and other historically underserved groups. The Office of Equity and Inclusion will also continue work it began in 2016, which includes monthly gatherings of students, families, and community leaders it convenes with Huston-Tillotson University, a nearby historically black university, to share narratives and develop plans for collective action.

    “We feel education is key to empowering parents and students of adversely affected communities. Education is going to be key to teaching people not only about history that they never learned, but also how to navigate systems that weren't designed for them,” Hawley said.

    As it prepared to become a TRHT Campus Center, ACC received letters of support from thirty-three community partners, including Interfaith Action of Central Texas, the Community Advancement Network, Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities Task Force, Austin’s public school district, and the Austin police department. Thirteen more community partners have joined the effort since the grant was awarded.

    “We often say community is our middle name,” Hawley said. “We're excited about getting to lead this work and to be an organizing center in our community.”

  • Janet Cooper Nelson, chaplain of Brown University, challenges visitors to its campus in Providence, Rhode Island, to stop any newly admitted student and ask, “Why did you choose to study at Brown?”

    “The first words out of his or her mouth, without our script or anything, will be, ‘The diversity of the community,’” she said.

    Prior to being named a TRHT Campus Center, Brown already had many offices and departments across campus working on issues of racial healing—for example, the Office of Institutional Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; the Brown Center for Students of Color; the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America; and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.

    “It would be so arrogant for us to claim to be 'The Center,'" Nelson said. Instead, the TRHT Campus Center is working collaboratively with these offices and programs and many others to enhance their collective effectiveness.

    Because racial healing circles are a relatively new methodology at Brown, the TRHT Campus Center hopes to integrate them through a variety of dialogue series that bring students, staff, and faculty together to discuss identity, race, gender, and the damage done by the racialization of religion and religious identity. Several of these series are already underway, including a group for Muslim women of color and a “Soul Food” group that meets weekly over dinner. The Soul Food discussions began as a Black History month series in February 2017, but students found the conversations so helpful that they asked for the meetings to continue.

    Nelson hopes that TRHT Campus Centers like Brown will shape emerging leaders by engaging them in transformative learning, discourse, and healing so that they emerge with new capacity to create change that is sorely needed both in America's current climate of racially charged violence and rhetoric. “These schools have a chance to model something entirely different than what the nation has been able to model,” she said.

  • As the largest employer in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University is deeply connected to the local community, which is changing rapidly with the gentrification of downtown and areas surrounding the university. At the same time, according to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, 50 percent of first-year students in Duke’s class of 2021 are students of color (Asian American, African American, Latinx, or Native American).

    The goal of Duke’s TRHT Campus Center is to strengthen the university’s position as a catalyst for change in partnership with diverse sectors on campus and within Durham to eradicate deeply rooted beliefs in racial hierarchies and disrupt persistent structures and impacts of racism.

    “There is already a great deal of work relevant to TRHT happening at Duke and in Durham, and as a university-wide initiative that is accountable to the community, the TRHT Campus Center will build on and expand these efforts,” said Charmaine Royal, associate professor and director of the Duke Center on Genomics, Race, Identity, Difference (GRID).

    The Duke TRHT Campus Center has three key objectives: (1) gathering evidence to understand histories, inequalities, and perspectives regarding race and racism, which will contribute to the codevelopment of a shared language on human biological and cultural variation, structural and systemic racism, equity, inclusiveness, and belonging; (2) engaging the Duke-Durham community in conversations and dialogues to enhance and expand communications about race and racism; and (3) creating key messages that will guide the development and implementation of accessible public education efforts to foster accountability and produce a toolkit of truthful narratives on race and racism in Durham.

    “The existing racial hierarchies and beliefs were not created overnight, and they will not be dismantled easily or quickly,” said Jayne Ifekwunigwe, faculty at GRID. “At every juncture, we will proceed slowly and intentionally, thinking thoughtfully and strategically not only about what we are doing, but more importantly, how we are doing the work and who is included in decision-making processes.”

  • “I would describe Hamline University as a healthy body, but we have wounds,” said Jim Scheibel, professor of practice at Hamline, a private university in Saint Paul, Minnesota. One of these wounds was caused by the July 6, 2016, shooting of Philando Castile, who was unarmed, by police officers in nearby Falcon Heights.

    “You can be healthy, but wounds need addressing. They take attention. They sometimes take time to heal,” Scheibel said.

    As one of the first higher education institutions in the country to open its doors to both men and women, Hamline “has a reputation of focusing on social justice in addition to good scholarship,” Scheibel said. “Our emphasis is on developing the kind of citizens and performing service that we really need for a strong community in Saint Paul.”

    Prior to becoming a TRHT Campus Center, Hamline had already held a teach-in and listening circles to help students, faculty, and staff address concerns about race in the community. In its first year, the Campus Center will focus on healing the on-campus community further through a series of healing circles and other narrative- and relationship-building activities. In its second year, the TRHT Campus Center will engage community partners—including the YWCA and the Saint Paul Foundation, which recently received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to make the city of Saint Paul one of fourteen TRHT Places. In the third year, the TRHT Campus Center hopes to enact larger structural and systemic changes to make Hamline a model for other universities to address tension and have difficult conversations.

    “Given our history, I think we have unique opportunities to become strong agents of change in how we create intimate spaces for difficult conversations that are not only meaningful, but ultimately lead to actionable change that is measurable and sustainable,” said Rebecca Neal, assistant professor of educational foundations.

  • Like the communities that surround it, Millsaps College, a private college in Jackson, Mississippi, has had a long and complicated history regarding race. Millsaps once moved its main entrance away from the predominantly black community that surrounds it towards a more visible thoroughfare, but it also played a role in the Civil Rights Movement during the Jim Crow era, when black and white students were prohibited from interacting with each other. To get around these restrictions, white students from Millsaps met in secret with black students from nearby Tougaloo College.

    “Mississippi has come further than anybody else in the country on race relations, but we still have as far to go as everybody else,” said Demetrius Brown, associate dean of intercultural affairs and community life. To help push the community further down the path of racial healing, the TRHT Campus Center will bring students, faculty, and staff together in cohorts with government officials, local community organizations, and constituents from nearby colleges and universities, including Tougaloo. These cohorts will participate in active learning activities that explore narratives of race and racism in Jackson, allowing them to develop a common vocabulary and knowledge base.

    Recently, some Millsaps faculty changed how they use the American Psychological Association style of citations on course syllabi, which had used only first initials of authors, to include full names “that indicate gender or that may indicate some ethnic backgrounds, so that our students see that the materials that they're reading aren't all from one voice,” Brown said.

    Brown hopes that the Center will become a focal point of racial healing in Mississippi, but he also hopes that it will have lasting effects as students leave to pursue careers and active citizenship.

    “My hope is that we can equip [students] with the skills to deal with [difficult experiences] in positive ways. Yes, protest. Yes, force institutions to change policy. But yes, take that with you into your work, whatever you decide to do, so you're moving it forward.”

  • For decades, the city of Newark, New Jersey, has fought against a negative narrative surrounding race and class.

    “No matter who you talk to, if you say you're from the city of Newark, the first thing that person does is say, ‘Oh, I'm so sorry.’ Or, ‘Oh, wow. Really?’ But the residents of the city of Newark take real pride in their city,” said Sharon Stroye, director of community engagement in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University–Newark.

    Part of this negative narrative stems from the 1967 “rebellion” against poverty and systemic racism that left large swaths of the city destroyed, while other issues arose as the university grew, displacing local communities in the process. Though Newark is now experiencing a renaissance of business and culture, some of these difficult issues continue, including the persistent problems associated with poverty and structural inequality.

    The TRHT Campus Center at Rutgers–Newark is a collaborative effort led by the School of Public Affairs and Administration, the LGBTQ and Intercultural Resource Center, the Abbott Leadership Institute, and the Honors Living-Learning Community. It will initially focus on five activities to engage campus constituents and the wider Newark community: (1) story circles (adapted from Roadside Theater); (2) intergroup dialogues; (3) public art, including spoken word poetry events and audio/video art (such as a video history of interviews with Newark residents about the 1967 rebellion); (4) public access communication; and (5) youth leadership development.

    “As a campus center, we're going to hold up the mirror to ourselves and be able to have those honest conversations with community members, so we can all speak our truth as a cohesive community,” Stroye said.

  • Ever since its founding in 1881, less than twenty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Spelman College—a private, historically black women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia—has been dedicated to breaking down racial and gender hierarchies.

    For its first three years, Spelman’s TRHT Campus Center will support programmatic initiatives including advocacy training, book discussions, a speaker series, and a collaborative leadership-development project in which ten undergraduate social justice students will engage in advocacy activities with the Atlanta community.

    Another ongoing project will be the continuation of Spelman’s Difficult Dialogues series, which brings students together from at least eight higher education institutions (including Agnes Scott College and Oglethorpe University) in Atlanta and surrounding Georgia communities to discuss and navigate controversial issues. As part of the project, participants will collate transformative narratives, videos, sounds, and images through Spelman’s Storyhouse, a mobile multimedia exhibit.

    The Difficult Dialogues series is a student-led initiative of the Spelman College Social Justice Program. Students engage in intercollegiate discussions that are framed by an intersectional, theoretical analysis of the impact of identities based on race, class, and gender constructs. A “Rituals of Citizenship” theme will inform the Difficult Dialogues TRHT series.

    “Our mission is eliminating racism and empowering women,” said Sharmen Gowens, chief executive officer of YWCA of Greater Atlanta and a community partner of the Spelman TRHT Campus Center. "We always want to work with the younger generation. If we don’t include younger women, the mission dies with the older [generation]. And we don't want it to die, we want it to live until it’s accomplished.”

  • In December of 2015, students, faculty, and staff at The Citadel, a public military college in Charleston, South Carolina, were grappling with a racially charged incident on campus while still reeling from two prior local events that reverberated throughout Charleston and across the nation: On April 4, Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot in the back and killed by a white North Charleston police officer. And on June 17, a white supremacist murdered nine church members attending a Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

    The confluence of these terrible events and the resulting climate in Charleston gave The Citadel “the advantage of being in a place where there's no denial as to the need for racial healing,” said J. Goosby Smith, associate professor of leadership and management.

    After the events of 2015, The Citadel’s president, Lieutenant General John W. Rosa, commissioned a task force that resulted in twenty-two recommendations to reaffirm The Citadel's commitment to diversity and inclusion on campus. Building on these recommendations, the TRHT Campus Center has four primary goals: (1) examining the The Citadel’s historic role throughout slavery, Jim Crow, and modern civil rights efforts; (2) conducting conversations with alumni to strengthen their role in campus processes; (3) analyzing curricula to ensure they are inclusive of the diversity of individuals who contributed to the scholarship of various disciplines, often without recognition due to their race, ethnicity, or gender; and (4) collaborating with other higher education institutions and key community partner organizations to break down inequitable policies and practices stemming from racial hierarchies.

    Larry Daniel, dean of the Zucker Family School of Education, has no illusions that this work will be easy. “It's going to hurt. It's going to be painful. It's going to cause some tension and some distress, but at the same time, it allows us to slowly peel back our own bandages to look at what's there and determine how to better heal ourselves as we're also trying to promote healing in the community.”

  • The TRHT Campus Center at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, the flagship research institution for the University of Hawai‘i system, will bring students, faculty, administrators, and the local community together to leverage their kuleana (native Hawaiian for right, privilege, or responsibility) to protect and manage their āina (land or natural resources).

    One of the primary goals of the TRHT Campus Center is addressing the university’s role in the colonial occupation of Hawai‘i and the institutional barriers and inequities that persist.

    “Race is not something that we talk about in Hawai‘i. It's a very taboo subject,” said Kaiwipuni Lipe, Native Hawaiian Affairs Program Officer. It is “a little scary but also exciting to see how we might [have a] creative strategy to really engage in some important conversations that haven't happened very well before.”

    The TRHT Campus Center will develop a cohort model that (1) begins with faculty as they map campus and community stakeholders and design a TRHT curriculum, (2) continues in its second year with faculty and student cohorts; and (3) expands in its third year to include an administrator cohort. Implementing these cohorts across the entire campus will require the collaboration of multiple campus groups, including departments on campus (such as nursing, engineering, law, and medicine) that integrate Native Hawaiian knowledge into their curricula, as well as administrative offices including the Office of Student Equity, Excellence, and Diversity and Native Hawaiian Student Services.

    “I definitely see higher education as a key and critical component in the health and well-being of our communities,” Lipe said. “It has to. Higher education has to be a part of it.”

  • Like many other urban areas across the country, Baltimore, Maryland, is grappling with the effects of racially charged incidents in its community, including the death of Freddie Gray, who died in 2015 while in police custody, and the subsequent uprising.

    The TRHT Campus Center at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)—a public research university—hopes to build a more positive narrative about race in the Baltimore metro area by (1) implementing a racial healing framework of training and reflection; (2) bringing youth and students into the efforts to effect racial healing and transformation; and (3) creating a diverse team of leaders and stakeholders from different age groups to expand healing and transformation across larger structures and systems.

    Both undergraduate and graduate students, representing various student groups and organizations, have been integral to the planning process for UMBC’s TRHT Campus Center.

    “We're really trying to make this a platform where people from all levels of the university are involved in the decision making,” said Eric Ford, director of operations at UMBC’s Shriver Center, which will bring the TRHT Campus Center into its existing service-learning and community-engaged scholarship programs.

    For thirty years, the Shriver Center’s Choice Program has mentored and advocated for youth who are from under-resourced communities or who are at risk of being removed from their homes or schools. As a TRHT Campus Center, the Shriver Center will leverage existing partnerships with other on-campus groups, including UMBC’s Mosaic Center and Women’s Center, and community organizations such as WombWork, Maryland Humanities, and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.

    “I think it will have everyone on campus addressing issues around racial injustice and social justice, . . . not working in silos but working together,” Ford said.