Magazine Reflections

Committed to Equity

How faculty and administrators bring a focus on racial justice to their work

Spring 2021

In the 1970s, I received Fulbright scholarships to study and teach music in Germany. Being separated from my family, friends, and culture was transformative and helped me develop a more global mindset as a Black man. For the first time in my life, race no longer dominated my psyche. I became so enamored of that world where musicians were revered and Blacks were not ostracized that I considered never returning to the United States. Living abroad emphasized the ugly realities back home—especially the extreme income disparity between Black and White people.

All students should have the transformative experience of study abroad. At the University of Richmond, our EnCompass program offers fully funded, faculty-led international experiences to students who are least likely to study abroad: students of color, first-generation students, student athletes, STEM majors, and male students.
—Ronald A. Crutcher,
president of the University of Richmond. He wrote about his experience studying abroad in his memoir, I Had No Idea You Were Black: Navigating Race on My Road to Leadership.

My office is located in the oldest academic building at James Madison University (JMU). For decades, its name commemorated a Confederate leader. In February 2021, the university’s board of visitors unanimously voted to rename it in honor of Joanne and Alexander Gabbin, two Black faculty members and former administrators. Two other buildings named for Confederates were also renamed for Black staff and alumni who made significant contributions to the university. As chair of the committee recommending the changes, I can’t easily express how good it feels to see the sign in front of my building saying “Gabbin Hall.”

When JMU opened in 1909 as a school for White women, providing a higher education to women was radically progressive. But it was also the era of Jim Crow segregation, and racist structures affected nearly every aspect of campus. Black-face minstrel shows? Eugenics in the curriculum? Buildings named for Confederates? Check, check, and check.

In 1966, the institution became coeducational and also began to desegregate, but the legacies of structural racism remain. JMU is working to dismantle those structures, and the recent renamings signal our renewed commitment to opening our doors to everyone.
—Margaret Mulrooney,
professor of history and associate vice provost for university programs, James Madison University

I recently had the opportunity to cohost the Racial Justice Reel Camp for Girls, a partnership among the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center; Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking; and the Pōpolo Project.

The national TRHT framework emphasizes bringing our visions of healed and transformed communities to life. In one exercise, we asked camp participants to envision their healed communities: What would they look, sound, feel, taste, and smell like?

Even though all these young people (in their early teens through their early twenties) have had their own challenges in our racialized society, they still had powerful visions of their futures. Some even made short films about them!

I walked away with a renewed sense of hope and gratitude for young people, especially girls and nonbinary and transgender folks whose stories often don’t get heard. Ultimately, I was reminded of my kuleana (responsibility) to make sure they do.
—Kaiwipunikauikawēkiu Lipe,
Native Hawaiian affairs program officer and TRHT Campus Center director, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

Image: Ronald A. Crutcher plays his cello in Germany in 1974. Image credit: courtesy Ronald A. Crutcher