By Greyson Scudder
Millsaps College has been chosen, along with nine other colleges and universities around the nation, as a site for a “Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Center,” sponsored by the American Associations of Colleges and Universities (AACU). Millsaps received the honor for its vision statement alongside several other universities out of the original 125 that applied. The AACU was “particularly impressed with (Millsaps’) vision long-term,” according to Susan Womack, associate vice president for development operations. This distinction also comes with a grant of $30,000 to be awarded over the next three years, which Millsaps intends to use for furthering education on race and racial issues.
Womack, who is one of the four administrators and faculty members to work on this program said, “[the American Association of Colleges and Universities] is looking for college campuses that are really committed to their goals of talking about race, racism and the history behind that, in truthful terms.”
The goal of the program is to, as Womack put it, “change the [racial] narrative to one that is productive, not divisive,” through educating about racial history, as well as opening the floor to the students of Millsaps so that they can share their insights and personal experiences.
In order to gain the distinction of hosting, Millsaps submitted a proposal in which they gave a vision statement, which outlined the college’s goals. “Mississippi and Jackson have probably made more progress on racial reconciliation than anywhere in the United States,” the statement says. The statement also made clear the goal of “dismantling racial hierarches” and “creating new positive racial narratives.”
While the program has lofty goals, it seems that not much will change for the average Millsaps student. The program is aimed toward changing “the kinds of conversations and the ways we talk about the controversial issues of race, related to our own community, and the broader community,” said Womack. This means that much of the budget will go toward hosting speakers, holding debates and sending the four liaisons (Dean Demitrius Brown, Dr. Anita DeRouen, Dr. Kenneth Townsend, and Womack) to conferences on racial education.
Although the program is intended to educate students, many are indifferent toward the grant.
“Every time I go to a [political lecture] like that, it doesn’t actually change anything…. It just gets heated and awkward, and everyone leaves kind of frustrated and upset, and to me, that just creates more division,” Keaton Dooley, a sophomore biology major from McComb, Mississippi, said when asked about political discussions
Other students seemed uncomfortable with commenting about the program as well, with another two students declining to comment based on political reasons. Though the program seeks to benefit minority students, there are many questions about the program still.
Although the prospect of bringing in guest lecturers to speak about race is uncomfortable for some students, others seem more positive about the prospect. Imani Adams, a junior psychology major from Vicksburg, Mississippi, said “I think that it’s good to be more educated on the topic. So, I guess it’s a good idea to bring in people to talk about race,” despite being initially indifferent about the program. Though the immediate effect is small, Womack is excited about the possibilities, and welcomes the honor of being selected as a step in the right direction. Though students seem unconvinced, the administration seeks to put to rest any doubt about it in the coming months.