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NIU selected as a Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center

October 13, 2021

Vernese Edghill Walden, chief diversity officer and vice president for Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Among 19 “pathbreaking institutions,” NIU was chosen by the Association of American Colleges and Universities to host a new Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center.

The honor further establishes NIU as a leader in the areas of racial and social justice, equity and inclusion. NIU joins a total of only 49 such centers—described as self-sustaining, community-integrated campus centers advancing racial and social justice—at institutions across the United States.

“We are excited to be named a TRHT Center and believe that it is a testament to our continued efforts to make NIU a community that advances equity, inclusion and social justice in all that we do,” said Vernese Edghill-Walden, chief diversity officer and vice president for Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.I also want to congratulate the faculty and staff team who worked on the proposal. I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.”

Established in partnership with the Association of American Colleges (AAC&U) and hosted by colleges and universities, Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers pursue the shared goal of preparing the next generation of leaders and thinkers to break down racialized practices and to dismantle the belief in a “hierarchy of human value.”

“The goal of TRHT is to bring transformation and sustainable change within campus cultures and to address the historical and contemporary effects of racism and other -isms,” said Jocelyn Santana, director of Social Justice Education, who will oversee the TRHT team at NIU.

The TRHT team at NIU consists of J Pappas, assistant director of Social Justice Education; Joy Mitchell, associate director for Student Conduct; James Cohen, associate professor of ESL/Bilingual Education; and Joseph Flynn, associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction.

“The TRHT center would allow for a campus culture of healing through restorative dialogue, establishing work that is dedicated to transformation,” Mitchell said.

NIU was awarded $25,000 in seed money to start the TRHT Campus Center. While details continue to be sorted out, the TRHT Campus Center will allow the university to both expand existing Academic Diversity, Equity and inclusion initiatives and add new programming.

“Our vision is that TRHT will provide space for social justice, racial healing and restorative justice work and continued education of self-awareness and growth for all members of the community,” Santana said.

“I think it gives us an opportunity to do some very exciting work. It’s an opportunity for collaboration across our institution to consider what racial reconciliation and justice really mean, especially within our classrooms and how we engage with each other and with our students. We really want to address this hierarchy of human value.”

Plans are to encourage and expand campus engagement in “conversations that matter” about racial and restorative justice, Santana said.

As part of the TRHT Campus Center, the university also looks to add programming, such as themed student story slams and a racial reconciliation conference.

Another new initiative would involve arts projects that explore the history, consequences and impact of racism and the contributions of underserved populations. These could include the Arts in Action exhibit, and the 1619 Project by New York Times Magazine.

“The TRHT campus center affords us the opportunity to expand and amplify our institution’s mission and commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and access at NIU and within our community,” said Monique Bernoudy, assistant vice president of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“We know participation in our TRHT campus center will afford us new opportunities to build collaborative networks, implement restorative justice and healing practice through participatory and immersive experiences. The TRHT campus center is a critical tool to develop and sustain a community where all feel they belong and are valued.”

The TRHT campus centers play a vital role in the national TRHT effort to address historical and contemporary effects of racism and to promote transformational and sustainable change, AAC&U leaders say.

“We look forward to partnering with these pathbreaking institutions in their efforts to promote racial equity and healing on their campuses and in their communities,” AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella said. “We’re grateful to our funders for their commitment to ensuring that higher education plays a leadership role in advancing racial and social justice in our society.”

Along with NIU, the launch of new TRHT Campus Centers at the 19 institutions is supported by funding from Lumina Foundation, the Meyer Foundation, Trellis Foundation and Wiley Education Services, a division of Wiley.

Five other institutions have launched TRHT Campus Centers. Two institutions in New Jersey are supported by funding from ETS and four are self-funded.