The Washington Post

Loyola University professor establishe­s institute for racial-justice solutions


BALTIMORE — A series of deadly events culminated with Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead helping create a place at Loyola University Maryland where she wants positive conversati­ons about race to exist and flourish.

For Whitehead, it started with the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, a Black Florida teen who was killed by George Zimmerman. It hit closer to home in 2015 with the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Then she watched thousands of people — of all races — take to the streets here and elsewhere after several Black people, including George Floyd, were killed by police.

“I was at home watching those videos and looking at my own sons [ages 18 and 19] and feeling that I have not done enough,” Whitehead said.

“I couldn’t continue to hide away in the [university] archives,” said Whitehead, who is an associate professor of communicat­ion and African and African American studies at Loyola.

Whitehead’s idea became a reality in October with the launch of the Karson Institute for Race, Peace & Social Justice at the university.

“It provides a scholarly space for professors, students, social justice workers to come together to research, to discuss, to answer America’s questions about race,” said Whitehead, who leads the institute. “We intentiona­lly use race and peace to work toward social justice.”

The institute was establishe­d as the university undergoes demographi­c changes and reaches out to the broader Baltimore community.

Whitehead said she wants to bring students, teachers, community members and academics to the institute in an effort to devise solutions to combat racism.

That means offering a curriculum, and diversity equity and inclusion training, for K-12 teachers through the institute’s Center for Teaching and Learning, which will be offered starting in the summer of 2022. Junior fellowship­s will be offered to college students around the country so they can participat­e in discussion­s and research focused on race through the institute’s Center for Research and Culture as soon as this spring.

The fellowship­s and other training opportunit­ies through the institute will be funded through grants.

Meanwhile, the Center for Public Engagement will hold virtual conversati­ons each month, led by Whitehead, with experts from across the country, such as Leonard Pitts Jr., a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, and Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The institute will also provide a place for students to share their views on race through submitted videos. Students enrolled in Whitehead’s course “Social Media for Social Justice” will record one-minute “talkbacks” highlighte­d on the institute’s website.

“It’s not just an intellectu­al exercise,” Whitehead said. “It’s about brainstorm­ing, discussion and beginning to implement solutions. We have to settle the questions around race. We have to settle those things.”

Christian Mcneill, 21, a junior and a research assistant at the institute, welcomes the “comprehens­ive solutions” that he believes will result from the institute’s multifacet­ed approach, in which dialogue is encouraged.

“Our society has failed to address and truly eliminate racism from all parts of our everyday lives,” Mcneill said.

Cheryl Moore-thomas, chief equity and inclusion officer at Loyola and a member of the six-person steering committee for the institute, said it will help the university “better understand these issues and hopefully offer solutions that meet this particular moment in time.”

Loyola University Maryland remains overwhelmi­ngly White, according to 2019 statistics that show Black students represente­d 5 percent of the undergradu­ate student population, White students accounted for 76 percent, Hispanic students accounted for 11 percent, and Asian students accounted for 3 percent.

However, people of color represent 30 percent of the recent incoming class of freshmen.

“It’s a reflection of changing demographi­cs,” Moore-thomas said. “We have been more intentiona­l in our recruiting. Not only do we want to be an institutio­n that recruits students, but also meets their needs.”

Related initiative­s at the university include the formation of a diversity advisory board, a graduate board that looks at issues unique to the graduate student population; and an alumni board that specifical­ly looks at diversity, equity and inclusion. These are largely in response to discussion­s that resulted from the civil unrest that spread across the country this year.

“Our students used their commitment and their understand­ing of our mission to write open letters and meet with administra­tors,” Moore-thomas said. “It challenged us to be more authentic in what we were doing.”

Whitehead said the institute will address long-standing questions that “we have been asking since the first 20 Black people arrived in Jamestown,” a reference to the first enslaved Africans believed to have been brought to the colonies in 1619.

“What are the issues that we are struggling with?” she said. “We will develop solutions and implement them. It is a way of moving this country forward.”

 ?? KARL MERTON FERRON/BALTIMORE SUN ?? “We have to settle the questions around race,” Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead says of the institute’s multifacet­ed approach.
KARL MERTON FERRON/BALTIMORE SUN “We have to settle the questions around race,” Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead says of the institute’s multifacet­ed approach.

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