The Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Center is a new program that will soon be hosted at SIUE, with the goal of encouraging bonds between SIUE and the surrounding community as well as advocating for equality.

Interim Assistant Provost Jessica Harris is spearheading the program on the SIUE campus. Harris said community building is an important part of the center’s mission, both on national and local levels.

“The goal of the center is to pair colleges and universities with their surrounding community, and to engage the community members and students and folks that are a part of the university in racial healing efforts and really addressing social justice issues,” Harris said. “It’s really supposed to be an opportunity for campuses and communities to work together.”

According to Harris, in the process of applying to be part of the nationwide program, she and the rest of the team formed by faculty and staff had to develop a plan for how the initiative would be implemented at SIUE.

“The TRHT change process has three components. There’s narrative change, racial healing and transformation, and so we had to outline what that would look like for our community,” Harris said. “After we thought through it, we thought it might be a good idea to really focus on East St. Louis and our relationship with East St. Louis and how we can work together to heal and also to transform.”

Connie Frey-Spurlock, an associate sociology professor and member of the TRHT team, said she is developing ways to use her work with the Successful Communities Collaborative to promote this new initiative.

“I’m working with the Successful Communities Collaborative, and we’re going to use that framework to build those partnerships, certainly with East St. Louis but beyond that in the future,” Frey-Spurlock said. “SSCC will facilitate those connections. There are a couple of options so far where students can get involved and do some of that work, so we’ll use this model to help those students connect to the larger work at the center.”

Frey-Spurlock also said she views this program and its goal of community building as important because these connections create a better society in a number of ways.

“We have a lot of work to do in terms of building relationships that expand beyond our own racial and identity categories,” Frey-Spurlock said. “Of course, the value is that the better connected we are across these socially constructed frameworks and identities, the better and stronger we are. We come up with more effective solutions, and we just have a better quality of life when we engage the way that we should engage with folks.”

Looking forward, the team has developed a plan for the next three years. According to Harris, this plan includes student research projects into the history of East St. Louis, opportunities for community members to share their stories, racial healing circles and addressing racial inequality in economics and the social justice system.

“One of the goals of the national TRHT framework is to challenge this notion that there is a hierarchy of human value, and students are supposed to be a part of that,” Harris said. “We’re supposed to train the next generation of social justice advocates, and so that’s certainly a part of the mission of our center.”

Bryan Jack, an associate professor in the Department of Historical Sciences, said he decided to be a member of the TRHT team because he wants to be a part of the transformation of the local and national community.

“Within the world we live in today, there are a lot of structural barriers and not necessarily equal opportunity in communities and in the nation,” Jack said. “So, part of the goal for the TRHT Center is to address some of those issues and try to transform our university, our community and our nation as a whole by focusing locally on transforming these barriers.”

The Association of American Colleges and Universities, in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, recently announced SIUE as one of 13 new institutions to host TRHT Campus Centers, joining programs previously established at 10 campuses throughout the U.S.

According to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, “Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) is a comprehensive, national and community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism.”

In addition to Harris, Frey-Spurlock and Jack, the TRHT team consists of the following SIUE faculty and staff members: Kathryn Bentley, an associate professor of theater performance and the director of Black Studies; Elizabeth McKenney, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology; Courtney Boddie, the director of Counseling Services; and Carolyn Jason, the assistant program director of the East St. Louis Center’s Head Start program.

In June, the team will attend the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Summer Institute on TRHT Campus Centers, where they will continue to develop the plan to implement the program at SIUE.

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