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Transforming college campus culture

Racial healing centers emerge in Charlottesville’s wake
University Business, October 2017
LIGHTING THE WAY—Millsaps College holds its “Fourth Night” ceremony for new students. The Mississippi school, along with 10 other U.S. institutions,  has won a grant to create a Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation center.
LIGHTING THE WAY—Millsaps College holds its “Fourth Night” ceremony for new students. The Mississippi school, along with 10 other U.S. institutions, has won a grant to create a Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation center.

Students and faculty at 10 colleges and universities will work with surrounding communities to improve race relations, social justice and tolerance through newly created campus Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation centers.

The program, backed by $30,000 American Association of Colleges & Universities grants, takes on greater importance in the wake of the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, says Rob Pearigen, president of Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, one of the selected campuses.

“We’re in a time when there’s a need for honest and brave conversations around these issues,” Pearigen says. “And we want to move from conversations to action—to help, in a transformative way, in the lives of students, faculty and staff, and in the lives of our community.”

Colleges and universities (out of 125 applicants) receiving Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation center grants

Austin Community College

Brown University

Duke University

Hamline University (Minn.)

Millsaps College (Miss.)

Rutgers University

Spelman College (Ga.)

The Citadel (S.C.)

University of Hawaii at Manoa

University of Maryland Baltimore County

Millsaps, in the mid-1960s, became the first college in Mississippi to desegregate voluntarily, and it has admitted women since its early years of operation in the 1890s. The college plans to use the grant to bolster community service work that sends students to tutor in city schools and help local artists develop business plans.

Millsaps will also add internships and enhance other research programs it offers as a member of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty.

Spelman College, also a grant winner, will expand its “Difficult Dialogue” series. The initiative brings together students from nearby Atlanta-area colleges to discuss race, gender, class, politics and identity, says Cynthia Spence, an associate professor of sociology and director of Spelman’s Social Justice Fellows program.

“We see this as a way to scale these kinds of activities—to continue our intercollegiate relationships with undergrads, and to also engage faculty and staff and members of the community,” Spence says.

That includes reaching out to the region’s corporate sector—through Atlanta’s YWCA—to examine wider issues of social justice and equity, such as how residents and schools in some Atlanta neighborhoods are impacted by gentrification.

“Community partners will talk about the experience of individuals who have lived in communities that were racially segregated or homogeneous but are now on brink of change,” Spence says.

The grant recipients will participate in AACU’s first Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Institute in January 2018, as well as produce a guidebook that other institutions can use to create their own centers and initiatives.

AACU hopes to eventually help launch 150 racial healing centers, President Lynn Pasquerella says. “Often, when we think of these programs in higher ed, we’re the experts who are going in to rescue the members of the community,” she says. “We’re realizing we have as much to learn from the community members as we have to contribute.”

Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, will use its AACU grant to build on the momentum of its “Summer of Justice” discussion series that has examined African-American incarceration rates, the school-to-prison pipeline and equity in public education, Associate Provost Jill Barclift says.

“We had no idea that Charlottesville would happen,” Barclift says. “But it puts a finer point on the work associated with this grant.”

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