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.”