AAC&U Issues College Grants to Promote Racial Healing - Higher Education
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AAC&U Issues College Grants to Promote Racial Healing

by Tiffany Pennamon

Hamline University is one of 10 colleges awarded a multi-year Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) grant from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) to create a center for racial healing.

AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella

Announced on August 16, the centers will help “educate, prepare and inspire the next generation of leaders to advance justice and build inclusive communities,” according to AAC&U leaders.

Institutions were selected based on a competitive application process and were chosen from more than 125 schools that applied. Supported by gifts of $520,000 and $399,763 from Newman’s Own Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), respectively, the AAC&U will give selected schools such as Hamline an initial award of $30,000 to start a TRHT center at their campus.

The creation of the TRHT centers come in the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., after White supremacists and other hate groups marched through the University of Virginia campus and later clashed with counter-protestors downtown. The larger TRHT enterprise, however, was launched by WKKF in 2016 to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism today.

“In the aftermath of the horrific, heartbreaking events in Charlottesville, we must not be silent,” AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella said in early August. “Instead, we must harness our collective intellectual, social and financial resources to transform words into action.”

Dr. Fayneese Miller, president of Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, says that the creation of the TRHT center at her institution is a personal one for her. Having grown up roughly 100 miles south of Charlottesville, she is quite aware of the deep racial issues in the U.S., she told MPR News.

Hamline’s center will offer racial healing and “another way of engaging people” about things happening underneath the surface. “If we don’t have those conversations, if we don’t come to some sort of understanding, I fear that we could return to some pretty dark days,” Miller added.

At Duke, Provost Sally Kornbluth welcomes the school’s selection as a partner within the TRHT enterprise.

“The selection of Duke as one of these centers could not be more timely,” she said in a statement. “The goal of our Duke TRHT Campus Center is to strengthen Duke University’s position as a catalyst of change in partnership with the City of Durham to help eliminate deeply rooted beliefs and societal structures that perpetuate racism.”

And Rutgers University-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor says, “As we all bear witness to the searing realities of our long history of racialized violence and the bigotry and hatred that lies always just barely under the surface, across our divided and divisive societal landscape, we must urgently do the hard but critical work of learning about each other, reaching across untouchable boundaries, honing a lost sense of interdependence, and acknowledging that we are all in this together.”

Selected inaugural schools are now charged with developing and implementing initiatives that engage and empower campus and community members to break down racial hierarchies and create a positive narrative about race in their communities. AAC&U adds that it will provide strategic direction and support for the development of the centers by creating a guidebook and also launching a THRT initiative, according to an organization statement.

All 10 schools’ students, faculty, and staff are expected to work with community partners to carry out the goals set by the AAC&U and the WKKF foundation. Further, the AAC&U said that that the work of the first 10 schools will “empower people to live and to prosper in a civil and humane society that promotes full inclusion for everyone.”

AAC&U’s ultimate goal is to establish 150 centers across the country to “ensure that higher education is playing a leadership role in promoting racial and social justice,” said Pasquerella, the organization’s president.

Schools selected to create a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation center are Hamline University (Minn.); Austin Community College (Texas); Brown University (R.I.); Duke University (N.C.); Millsaps College (Miss.); Rutgers University-Newark (N.J.); Spelman College (Ga.); The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina; the University of Hawaii at Manoa; and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

A first annual convening for the TRHT Institute will take place in Washington, D.C., in January 2018.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at tpennamon@diverseeducation.com. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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