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Repairing the Damage Caused by Racism

Thirteen New Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centers

By Ben Dedman

February 7, 2020

Posters celebrating white supremacy. Politicians costumed in blackface. Institutional legacies of segregation, slavery, and appropriation of Native lands.

Amid a national climate in which violent hate crimes have hit a sixteen-year high, colleges and universities across the country are partnering with their local communities to repair the damage caused by racism.

In January, AAC&U selected twelve of these institutions and one consortium to host Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers, expanding the initial cohort of ten institutions selected in 2017.

Established by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, TRHT is a national, community-based process to engage citizens in racial healing and catalyze efforts to address inequities grounded in notions of a racial hierarchy.

“AAC&U is thrilled to partner with these outstanding institutions on our way to establishing 150 centers across the country to ensure that higher education is playing a leadership role in promoting racial and social justice,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella.

With funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, and Papa John’s Foundation, AAC&U works with higher education institutions across the country to develop self-sustaining, community-integrated TRHT Campus Centers. Organized around the five pillars of the TRHT framework—narrative change, racial healing and relationship building, separation, law, and economy—TRHT prioritizes relationship building and narrative change.

Teams from the institutions attended AAC&U’s Institute on TRHT Campus Centers, where they designed and participated in racial healing circles adapted from the practices of indigenous communities; participated in workshops; and collaborated with experienced TRHT Campus Center mentors, workshop facilitators, and evaluation consultants to develop and refine transformative campus action plans. Applications for the 2020 institute are due March 5.

“Given the growing divisions in our country, the launch of thirteen additional TRHT Campus Centers reminds us of the possibilities for healing and unity in our society,” said Tia Brown McNair, AAC&U vice president for diversity, equity, and student success and executive director for the TRHT Campus Centers.

Below, the thirteen new TRHT Campus Centers share their work to uproot the conscious and unconscious biases and misbeliefs that have exacerbated racial violence and tension in American society.

Adelphi University (Garden City, New York)

The TRHT Campus Center at Adelphi University, a private university in Garden City, New York, will work to diminish the long-standing, but often implicit, roles that racism and inequity have played in communities and schools on Long Island.

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The majority of students of color on Long Island attend K–12 schools in districts where most teachers are white. “Many teachers have not done the kind of introspective truth and relational healing work that prepares them to teach or positively connect with their students,” the TRHT team wrote. “We see this as a space in great need of the kind of racial healing that the TRHT framework has to offer.”

Adelphi’s 2015 strategic plan, “Momentum,” advanced by its first woman president, Christine Riordan, led to a University Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; a campus mentoring program for students; a network for faculty of color; a series of campus dialogues on restorative healing; and a Diversity Certificate Program for K–12 teachers.

The TRHT Campus Center will (1) create a teacher academy to attract college students from underserved communities into the teaching profession, (2) map curricula to embed diversity content, and (3) work with community partners through professional development workshops based on the TRHT framework and racial healing circles.

To build on existing partnerships and create new relationships, the TRHT Campus Center will be overseen by a Leadership Council with stakeholders from Adelphi University, Sewanhaka School District, and community organizations like P.E.A.C.E., the Inn, civil society organizations, and public libraries.

Andrews University (Berrien Springs, Michigan)

The TRHT Campus Center at Andrews University, the flagship comprehensive university of the Adventist Christian denomination, seeks to confront and effectively respond to historical and systemic racism within the university, the Adventist denomination, and the world.

Before the civil rights movement, the university had segregated its cafeteria and dormitories. A cross burning on campus by a town resident gained national attention.

In the journey toward racial understanding and meaningful reconciliation, a 2018 campus and online protest, “#ItIsTimeAU,” urged university administrators to apologize for systemic racism, mandate diversity training for faculty and staff, include non-Eurocentric perspectives in curriculum and activities, and seek to ensure that faculty, staff, and the curriculum reflect students’ diversity. (Andrews is consistently ranked among the top five ethnically diverse national universities and in the top ten for the percentage of international students on campus.)

The TRHT framework heavily influenced a new university strategic plan that focuses on anti-racism, faith development, wellness, and diversity and inclusion. In 2018, Andrews hired its first vice president for diversity and inclusion, Michael Nixon. In one of his early initiatives, Nixon partnered with a fellow alumnus to study student experiences in the Theological Seminary and found that students had different experiences with diversity on campus and felt a lack of diversity in seminary events.

Andrews has hosted conversations focusing on racial healing and reconciliation, including a series on “Healing the Trauma of Racism” in partnership with community organizations. Another event, “#ItIsTimeAU—One Year Later,” brought members of the protest and university administrators together to look back, assess progress, and identify future steps.

Andrews also works with local, national, and global Adventist leaders, who have expressed interest in implementing the TRHT framework to millions of members worldwide.

“We cannot empower our Andrews students to change the world if we are not willing to first change . . . our campus and our church,” the Andrews University campus team said.

Big Sandy Community and Technical College (Prestonsburg, Kentucky)

Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) is one of sixteen colleges that make up the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. BSCTC is committed to helping local communities develop increased opportunities for low-income and underrepresented minority students.

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While student surveys show that most students support cultural diversity and believe BSCTC does a good job promoting cultural diversity, there is still work to be done. A quarter of students believe that discrimination exists on campus and that the campus is not as integrated as it could be.

The student population at BSCTC includes students with learning or physical disabilities, students from racial or ethnic minority backgrounds, a small number of transient students, and high percentages of low-income and first-generation college students. Situated in a rural region of Kentucky, students have varied experiences, along with unique challenges and barriers.

BSCTC’s UNITED (Understanding and Nurturing Institutional Togetherness, Equity, and Diversity) plan has set ambitious goals to encourage a campus climate of inclusive excellence by recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority and low-income students.

Racial healing circles can break down intercultural barriers between these groups. The Campus Environment Team, which works to address academic, cultural, and social needs of minority and low-income students, has introduced faculty and staff to the TRHT framework and convened racial healing circles.

BSCTC is making improvements to assistive technology, establishing faculty transfer coaches, creating classroom environments that promote cross-cultural interaction and intergroup activities, and reinforcing partnerships with community and faith-based organizations.

Charlotte Racial Justice Consortium (Johnson C. Smith University, Queens University of Charlotte, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte)

Originally named the Charlotte Female Institute, Queens University of Charlotte was founded in 1857. Ten years later, on April 7, 1867, at a meeting of the Catawba Presbytery, Johnson C. Smith University was formally inaugurated and named the Freedmen’s College of North Carolina. Then, in 1946, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte was founded as one of several universities created in metropolitan areas in response to rising education demands following World War II.

In 2017, these three universities came together to form the Charlotte Racial Justice Consortium. The consortium goals include learning more about this history of segregation, dismantling the racial hierarchy, facilitating racial healing, fostering leadership, and nurturing transformation.

“Our three universities, each with an impressive history and campus community, are well-positioned to partner with the greater Charlotte community in this complex, timely, collaborative, and transformative work,” said LeAnna Rice, associate dean of students at Queens University.

Six students from each campus will be selected to participate in a year-long reflection on Charlotte’s history of racism and its connection to each university, while also exploring racial equity and developing leadership skills. Starting in late summer 2020, TRHT healing circles will rotate monthly among the three campuses and will welcome community members to reflect, share truths, and collaboratively create a new racial narrative. The TRHT fellowships will culminate in unique, student-led projects on the three campuses designed to foster truth, racial healing, and transformation.

Dominican University (River Forest, Illinois)

Dominican University, a private Catholic university, is grounded in the Dominican tradition; a commitment to ethics, social justice, and global citizenship; and a concern for the common good.

Despite these ideals and recent progress toward student engagement and belonging, over the last five years Dominican has received reports of bias or discrimination based on gender, race or ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Campus climate surveys found that some students, especially African American students, have felt singled out in class or that they must work harder than other students to be perceived as good students. And faculty surveys identified stress due to discrimination, bias, racism, sexism, or homophobia and concerns about how to teach controversial topics across difference.

“This data suggests the need to develop innovative strategies to attend to bias and shift the campus climate so that it is welcoming for everyone,” the TRHT team said.

Dominican’s TRHT Campus Center will become a hub for innovative programs and initiatives to promote racial justice on campus and in the communities where students live. By engaging stakeholders on campus and in the community, the TRHT Campus Center will advance data-informed policies and practices that eliminate gaps in persistence and completion by race, ethnicity, and income; increase percentages of African American, Asian American, and international students among Dominican’s student body; close program completion gaps by race/ethnicity; and develop projects where students can pursue their passion for racial equity.

Beginning in January 2020, the TRHT team is hosting workshops, programs, and racial healing circles for community members, faculty, and students built on TRHT’s principles and framework.

George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia)

With thirty-eight thousand students—and expected to reach fifty thousand by 2025—George Mason University (GMU) is the largest and most diverse university in Virginia.

However, recent events on campus, as well as in the state of Virginia, have compelled the GMU community to engage in conversations around racial atonement and making tangible positive change.

GMU’s TRHT Campus Center hopes to encourage continued dialogue and make a bold statement about its commitment to community transformation by (1) enhancing connections across the institution and among community organizations; (2) increasing the community’s capacity to speak and listen deeply regarding difficult topics; and (3) collaborating across campus and the community to identify and address obstacles to the success of Mason students.

Mason’s core curriculum is piloting a course on diversity, inclusion, and well-being. Outside the classroom, a campus-wide initiative is creating the “Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial” in the center of campus, recognizing the slaves owned by the university’s namesake. The project has created a public forum for discussing George Mason’s life and legacy and provides opportunities for scholarly research, teaching innovations, and community outreach.

Marywood University (Scranton, Pennsylvania)

Marywood University is excited to be among the new cohort of institutions creating a TRHT Campus Center. Its mission is centered on providing a well-rounded education for all students, and efforts to bridge many of the major divides in the community start with supporting students and families, especially those who come from historically marginalized groups. As an institution, Marywood wants to position itself as a leader in equity and inclusion in northeastern Pennsylvania, a region that has faced its share of negative publicity on issues of race, economics, and social-political upheaval.

Establishing a TRHT Campus Center at Marywood University will change this.

The center will bring the necessary awareness to these issues, and the structural inequities they perpetuate, in order to empower people on campus and in the community to do the work and begin the healing process.

Scranton is rapidly diversifying, with an influx of Latino, Congolese, Indian, and Bhutanese immigrants that often experience language barriers, housing discrimination, poverty, and tax inequities. And though black residents are leaders in the city’s churches and other faith-based organizations, they are chronically underrepresented in higher education institutions and political and government offices in the community.

In the past year, Marywood has conducted critical activities based on the TRHT framework, including the creation of an Office of Equity and Inclusion, a two-day Racial Equity Institute workshop, racial healing circles and dialogues in the community, and increased collaboration with local and regional partners.

Otterbein University (Westerville, Ohio)

Otterbein University identifies proudly with its history as a “college of opportunity” and one of the first universities in the United States to admit women students and students of color. In light of this history and from a profound need to problematize this narrative, the TRHT Campus Center will engage in a more truthful reckoning of the university's racial past and present. In collaboration with partners at Columbus City and Westerville City public school districts, the TRHT Campus Center will take an honest look at how schools and universities both perpetuate racial hierarchies and are affected by them.

The TRHT Campus Center at Otterbein University has a three-pronged approach to exposing and dismantling the hierarchy of human value assigned to school districts and universities in central Ohio according to their racial composition:

  1. Changing narratives of racial hierarchy in educational systems by conducting historical research and collecting individual stories.
  2. Promoting racial healing activities, including racial healing circles within and among the campus, the school districts, and the community.
  3. Changing policies and practices to erase structural and economic barriers to equal treatment and opportunity in educational systems.
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In addition to the school district partners, the TRHT Campus Center will strengthen community partnerships with the cities of Columbus and Westerville, library systems, and organizations such as Erase the Space.

“Educational institutions belong to the communities they serve; we envision schools and universities that recognize the common humanity of all students,” wrote the TRHT Campus Center team, which includes partners from Otterbein and both school districts.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (Edwardsville, Illinois)

Since the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014 and the resulting protests, the Saint Louis region, including Edwardsville, Illinois, has become a symbol of social and economic injustice. In the years since, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) has experienced racially charged incidents, including a racist message on a blackboard, a painting of the confederate flag, posters promoting white supremacy, and hate speech written on students’ cars.

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To change these narratives, the TRHT Campus Center, in partnership with the SIUE East St. Louis Center, is connecting with community agencies already engaged in antiracism work to prepare college and high school students to work alongside community members as agents of social change. The TRHT Campus Center’s goal is to serve as a model for community-based racial healing in the St. Louis-Metro East region.

In 2017, SIUE launched the Successful Communities Collaborative (SSCC), a program that connects students and faculty with Illinois communities and supports partnerships to address environmental, social, and economic needs identified by the community. Nearly four hundred students have been involved in SSCC-facilitated projects in the communities of Highland, Godfrey, Alton, and Edwardsville, Illinois. Together, the TRHT Campus Center and the Successful Communities Collaborative will expand efforts to East St. Louis, Illinois.

Partnerships are being built and strengthened with the I Am East St. Louis Foundation, which focuses on highlighting the many accomplishments of East St. Louis and its community members; NCCJ St. Louis, an organization dedicated to educating the community about systemic and institutionalized oppression; and the City of East St. Louis mayor’s office.

Stockton University (Galloway Township, New Jersey)

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Stockton University looks forward to participating in AAC&U’s TRHT Campus Center initiative. This opportunity to foster an environment free from prejudice and discrimination builds on the work the university already does as an anchor institution in Atlantic City, one of the most diverse communities in southern New Jersey. Work will focus on expanding and deepening conversations with area residents, organizing and facilitating opportunities to celebrate human value and promote cross-cultural collaboration, and engaging with local Native American groups to support research in shared history and new narrative-building efforts.

Stockton has won numerous awards for its diversity and inclusion efforts. The university’s long-standing Committee on Campus Diversity and Inclusive Excellence recently administered campus climate surveys, a student survey, and an employee survey. Responses have been discussed in town hall–type meetings, analyzed by shared governance committees, and used to inform changes in policies, procedures, and practices on the campus, such as new inclusive workplace trainings that address implicit bias, microaggressions, barriers to inclusion, bullying, and other behaviors that contribute to hostile work environments.

University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, Arkansas)

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As one of the largest employers in Arkansas and a renowned public flagship university, the University of Arkansas (UA) is uniquely situated to address the region’s long history of racial trauma and the university’s lack of racial diversity.

The TRHT Campus Center, housed within the university’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, Leadership and Development, and Strategic Supports (IDEALS) Institute, will support transformative change through several strategic priorities:

  1. Convening racial healing circles for individuals, groups, and communities affected by racism, discrimination, micro- and macroaggressions, or isolation.
  2. Delivering high-quality, research-based services tailored to the racial healing needs of constituents on campus and across community organizations, public agencies, faith-based organizations, corporations, and medical facilities.
  3. Creating a network of support and healing that will nurture efforts to be more inclusive and effective in teaching and mentoring.
  4. Fostering institutional cultures that recognize racism’s effects on the human spirit and build policies and practices that demonstrate value for inclusivity and diversity broadly.
  5. Attracting faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds—especially those who identify as African American—to campus, and building policies and practices designed to help them thrive.

“We need to revise our institutions’ policies and practices to embed diversity and inclusion in the very fabric of our organizations,” said Elecia Smith, the executive director for the IDEALS Institute. “We will continue to struggle attracting and retaining people of color in our workforce, neighborhoods, spiritual centers, and schools if we do not heal racial wounds.”

University of California, Irvine (Irvine, California)

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Orange County, California, has become increasingly diverse. Thirty-one percent of the population were born in other countries, and 46 percent speak a language other than English at home. The University of California, Irvine aims to be a beacon of inclusive excellence, a campus that reflects all backgrounds and life experiences, and a place where students can reach their full potential. The TRHT Campus Center hopes to develop a culture of truth-telling and dialogue-sharing by

  1. uncovering the history, dominant narratives, and roles UC Irvine has played in the history of racism in America;
  2. illuminating nondominant narratives by engaging current students and alumni to gather their stories about racial experiences at UC Irvine and in the community;
  3. ensuring that faculty and researchers employ inclusive curricula and literature that represent contributions of nondominant or traditionally overlooked racial groups;
  4. working to train faculty and staff in racial healing circles; and
  5. engaging local organizations and institutions—including the Orange County Department of Education and the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission Board—to build a sustainable infrastructure to support activities that bring together the diverse peoples of the campus and community to achieve equity for all.

“Transforming America’s racial narrative is not an easy task,” said the TRHT Campus Center team at UCI. “Collaborative and sustained efforts are necessary to bring about this change, and UCI already has a proven track record of establishing such collaborations throughout the county, across the UC system, and beyond.”

University of Puget Sound (Tacoma, Washington)

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At University of Puget Sound, for almost twenty years, the Race & Pedagogy Institute (RPI)—a collaboration between the university and the South Sound community—has worked to eliminate structural barriers to equity by integrating academic assets of the campus and local community knowledge.

University of Puget Sound has made important strides in staffing and capacity building in the journey toward equity and inclusive excellence. However, challenges remain. They are only beginning the necessary, but difficult, exploration of the institution’s history as it relates to race, inclusion, and minority status. Some students of color report feeling overwhelmed by the campus’s whiteness, turnover is too high among staff of color, and faculty are still predominantly white.

The TRHT Campus Center, which will be located within RPI, will focus on four primary goals:

  1. Deepening engagement with narratives about race.
  2. Exploring and implementing racial healing activities.
  3. Combatting erasure of people of color in historical campus narratives.
  4. Expanding efforts to eliminate structural barriers to equity within the economy, legal justice system, education, housing, and healthcare.

The TRHT Campus Center’s work will prioritize truth telling through student research exploring histories of discrimination and exclusion at the University of Puget Sound. This can be expanded to incorporate partnerships with students at other institutions in the Puget Sound region.

RPI will host racial healing circles to address historical divides, training community partners and students to be healing circle cofacilitators. Staff at the university’s Center for Intercultural and Civic Engagement have already drawn from racial healing circle practices in the orientation process for their student staff.

These efforts will continue to advance equity and inclusive excellence as a priority to prepare students who will be successful leaders today and beyond.


  • Ben Dedman

    Ben Dedman is a writer and staff editor at AAC&U.