How 10 colleges are promoting racial healing in their communities and higher ed

AAC&U has released ‘We Hold These Truths: Dismantling Racial Hierarchies, Building Equitable Communities’ that documents action plans organized around the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation framework
By: | July 7, 2020
Campus teams discuss racial healing and the falsity of racial hierarchies at AAC&U’s 2019 Institute on Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers institute that promotes racial awareness in higher education.Campus teams attend sessions, meet with expert faculty, and develop action plans at AAC&U’s 2019 Institute on Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers. Photo courtesy of AAC&U.

A new report that details the ongoing efforts at 10 colleges and universities to break down racial hierarchies and promote racial healing on their campuses and in their communities can help expand racial awareness in higher education overall.

The first of many installments, the report documents how these schools created campus centers that adopted the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) framework created by W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a philanthropic foundation that helps vulnerable children succeed in school, work and life.

Colleges and universities that work with their students directly, engage with their communities and use local news agencies to discuss race and shed light on hidden biases were prioritized out of the more than 100 institutions that applied for inclusion in the report by its authors, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, a national association that focuses on undergraduate liberal education.

“The institutions that we chose were at different places in their work on racial healing and transformation,” says AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella who plays a lead role in the TRHT effort. “It was a complex criteria that allowed institutions to focus on the issues that mattered most to their community.”

Racial awareness in higher education

AAC&U selected these 10 schools to host the initial cohort of TRHT campus centers:

Austin Community College (TX)
Brown University (RI)
Duke University (NC)
Hamline University (MN)
Millsaps College (MS)
Rutgers University—Newark (NJ)
Spelman College (GA)
The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina (SC)
University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (HI)
University of Maryland Baltimore County (MD)

For example, the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa has been aiding the indigenous populations in their fight against the construction of a telescope on their island on the basis that ownership of land is a myth while Hamline University in Minnesota focuses on community policing. “Hamline was originally grappling with the killing of Philando Castile in 2016 just two miles away from their campus and are now at the epicenter of the George Floyd murder,” says Tia Brown McNair, executive director of the TRHT Campus Centers and editor of the report.

Chosen schools created their own racial framework based on W.K. Kellogg Foundation‘s five principles, one of which involves identifying what their community would feel and look like if the belief in a hierarchy of human value no longer existed.

“We also make sure that the diversity initiatives are not just assigned to one office because everybody needs to be committed to this work,” says Pasquerella. “All efforts must be systemic so if a TRHT director or university president leaves, the project can still continue.”

Recognizing racial healing efforts at other institutions

Staff from the Estrategia Group visit the TRHT Campus Center at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Photo courtesy of Jessica Estévez.

The AAC&U later selected leaders from 14 other innovative schools to attend a TRHT institute to receive mentoring from the original 10 trailblazers to help the next generation overcome the false belief in a hierarchy of human value and to build equitable communities.

“Participants at the institutes engage in Rx Racial Healing Circles and develop action plans based on the TRHT Framework,” says McNair, also vice president for diversity, equity, and student success at AAC&U. “The campus teams attend the institute to build their understanding of the TRHT Framework and to develop plans based on how those elements can be applied in their community to create real change.”

“In this moment, people are feeling isolated by COVID and overwhelmed by the death of so many black people,” adds Pasquerella, “so the act of reaching out in any way we can has become more critical than ever.”