By Rebecca Cole
On January 17, 2023, the University launched its new Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Center (or TRHTC for short). Sewanee was chosen on November 17, 2022, as one of 16 colleges and universities to host a center by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. The guiding principles of the new center will be to confront the University’s record of racial injustice, choose to accept responsibility in the present, and chart a new future for the University, one of equity and justice on campus and beyond.
The Purple met with the center’s new co-directors – Dr. David Stark, professor of homiletics at the School of Theology, and Dr. Tiffany Momon, assistant professor of history in the undergraduate college – to talk about the future of the new center.
The project behind the center has been ongoing since 2020 and Dr. Stark and Dr. Momon were on the original team attending conferences, presenting proposals, and consulting with others to formally apply for Sewanee to implement its own TRHTC.
Dr. Momon is a member of the Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation. She is a public historian whose current research focuses on lives, artistry, and labor of free and enslaved craftsmen in Charleston, SC. Dr. Stark’s current research focuses on antiracist preaching as well as preaching that confronts confederate monuments and iconography. He is also a member of the Names and Places Committee dedicated to evaluating the University’s past ties to the Confederacy and determining whether honorifics should remain in place or be changed. Their experience and focus areas as well as their roles in the project made them natural choices as co-directors.
When asked about the name of the center, Dr. Stark explained how each piece is related to the goals of the organization. Truth: “Part of truth is telling the full narrative, thinking about narrative change is one of our goals. Telling the more complicated story about how Sewanee came about and who Sewanee is and beginning to grapple with that.” Racial Healing: “The work of racial healing and transformation then is: Well what do we do with this truth? So racial healing circles, for instance, are about building empathy and momentum toward change.” Transformation: “is thinking through our other goals, which are addressing structural barriers to equity and inclusion and building leaders.”
Dr. Momon added,
“The racial healing component is really understanding the truth so that you can understand the harms of racism and then build from there to move toward that stage of transformation.”
The center will function as an umbrella organization under which other campus organizations such as the Roberson Project will fall. This organization and others related will be fully in conversation to understand how they can all contribute to a more equitable campus community. “We are all working towards the same goals,” says Dr. Momon, “so now we can put all of our efforts together and have a better grasp on how each group contributes to the idea of truth, racial healing, and transformation.”
The undergraduate college and The School of Theology will work together by sharing the expertise that each school and its students can contribute. Dr. Momon said, “I see it as a way of bringing students together from both colleges, partnering, sharing our initiative and sharing resources.”
When speaking of the seminary students, Dr. Stark said, “Seminary students . . . have experienced maybe ten years of leading something that they can speak to. They have an expertise that they can bring and have expressed a desire to really learn and connect more…with what the college is doing around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” The two colleges will connect in their DEI goals and be able to more effectively communicate and enable sharing that will benefit the community as a whole. Dr. Stark also mentioned how the University should be leveraging its connection with the Epsicopal church because the church “is more serious than they have ever been about confronting racism.”
The goals of the TRHTC as stated on the website are to: “Create a positive narrative about race in our community. Promote racial healing activities on campus and in our community. Erase institutional barriers to equal treatment. And prepare the next generation of leaders to build just and equitable communities.”
When asked about how to confront institutional barriers, Dr. Momon said, “We don’t want to work alone….The first thing that comes to mind is drawing from the truth of it all. Identifying those barriers, being open to feedback, being honest about the situation here, and then thinking about actionable items from there.”
“One of the things that we’re interested in is building a critical mass of people,” Dr. Stark said. This will be a group of people who can build momentum for the goals of the project and connections throughout the community. Dr. Stark noted that he has been a pastor, and in such a profession, it becomes clear that one can not reach everybody. It will be crucial, he added, to have students, faculty, and members of the community engaged in conversation and willing to work together to move the project forward.
One of the ways in which the new center will attempt to address institutional problems and reach the most students is through the curriculum itself. Curriculum reform is a key component to addressing institutional injustices, especially in an educational institution; that will allow the University to provide a more equitable education regarding the themes of courses, the regions of the world being dis- cussed, and the authors read in class. Dr. Stark and Dr. Momon said that, “We have a great Center for Teaching, that is already thinking through some of these issues, that we get to partner with.”
The center will function with an open-door policy. “We want to hear from people even if it’s just a simple question of: What is this?” Dr. Momon said., “If I could tell students anything, it would be to let us be a resource…we really want to hear from everybody and involve as many people as we can…at the end of the day this is for them.”
You can contact the co-directors at racial healing email@example.com or their individual Sewanee emails.