New campus center to focus on racial healing and social justice

George Mason University is set to open a campus center focused on creating awareness about the effects of racism, as well as preparing the next generation of leaders dedicated to promoting racial and social justice.

In January, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announced it had selected Mason to host a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center. Mason joins 23 other colleges and universities hosting TRHT campus centers across the United States.

Mason is the only school in Virginia to be selected as a site for a TRHT campus center.

“At Mason, diversity is our strength,” said Interim President Anne Holton. “Being selected to host this center gives us an opportunity to lead the way on the challenging but crucial work of confronting racism and promoting equality.”

In 2017, 10 colleges and universities were selected to establish TRHT centers focused on racial healing. This year, the association announced it had picked 13 more colleges and universities, including Mason, to host TRHT centers. Other schools selected include Adelphi University, Stockton University and the University of Puget Sound.

“We are very excited about the potential here to be a leader in the work of racial healing in Virginia,” said Rose Pascarell, Mason’s vice president for University Life. “As the largest and most diverse public university, we have the responsibility to engage our students to address racism and to ready them to be leaders on these issues in their communities, their workplaces and their families.”

Mason was selected based on its vision for the center, its demonstrated commitment of campus leaders and the community to the goals of a TRHT center and its ability to prove that the community needed a TRHT center. 

“AAC&U is proud to partner with George Mason University in advancing our shared objective of demonstrating how higher education can lead the way in jettisoning the belief in a hierarchy of human value, “ said AAC&U president Lynn Pasquerella in a statement. 

Each center is charged with creating a positive narrative change about race in the community, promoting racial healing on campus and in the community, dismantling the belief in a hierarchy of human value and eradicating structural barriers to equal treatment and opportunity.

The TRHT Campus Center project is administered through the AAC&U, in partnership with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation and Papa John’s Foundation. Gail Christopher, a senior scholar at Mason’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, was the architect behind the TRHT Campus Center project when she served as vice president at the Kellogg Foundation.

In June, teams from the 13 newly selected colleges and universities will gather for a training program in Atlanta, Georgia, where Mason’s team will refine its plans for the next two years and practice designing and co-facilitating Rx Racial Healing Circles.

The AAC&U describes Rx Racial Healing Circles as a way to engage participants in building trust and understanding among diverse groups. Using the circles, Mason’s center is expected to involve the community in allowing participants to immerse themselves in the commonalities of a shared human journey, while acknowledging the consequences of exposure to racism and honoring diverse cultures and experiences. 

“The intention is to facilitate authentic engagement with people who might be perceived as very different and build community as a result,” said Christopher, who also serves as executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity.

Last summer, Creston LynchWendi N. Manuel-ScottAngela Jean HatteryLauren B. CattaneoNance Lucas and Charles L. Chavis, Jr. participated in the 2019 TRHT Institute.