Rutgers-Newark establishes new center to confront racism

Rutgers University-Newark has launched what it calls a bold approach to breaking down barriers and building better understanding. It’s one of only ten schools in America to establish a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Center.

“We acknowledge that being a diverse institution sitting in a diverse city is not enough and that we must actively engage in the messy and difficult work that is truth and racial healing. We recognize that for healing to occur, the wrongs of the past must be acknowledged, including the role of the United States Academy, which also includes Rutgers University-Newark, in aiding and abetting ideologies of structures of racial hierarchy,” said executive vice chancellor at Rutgers University-Newark, Sherri-Ann Butterfield.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities developed the concept with grants from foundations eager to have communities confront racism everywhere it lives and lurks, including at the university.

“We’re still dealing with the narrative that we have to undo, right?” said Butterfield.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka welcomed the center’s ambitious goal to deliver healing through programs.

“When you build systems, you inadvertently destroy others,” said Baraka. “There is a kind of psychosis and sickness that has been created and that’s permeated every institution in this country because of white supremacy being the structure that under girded the development of this nation, the history of this nation. The most powerful nation in the world has been supported economically, educationally, socially by a system that made some people believe that they were superior simply because of their physical characteristics and their birth, and other people believe that they’re inferior.”

The center has partners. One is its neighbor, the Newark Public Library.

“I would say that our role, now perhaps more than ever, is to advocate and agitate, to assist and resist,” said director of the Newark Public Library, Jeffrey Trzeciak.

Another one of the center’s partners is the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice.

“I think if this country needs anything, it needs at this moment more truth, it needs more racial healing and it certainly needs more transformation. The work that we do at the Institute for Social Justice really thinks about how, to the mayor’s point, how to transform systems that advance racial inequality,” said president and CEO of the institute, Ryan Haygood.

The campus center says it’s way past time for a conversation like this. But, from a national perspective, is America ready for a conversation like this?

“I certainly think we’re ripe for the conversation. I also think that we always start the conversation and never get to the second part of it. So, I’m going to say that it will take a while,” said Celia King, CEO of Leadership Newark.

King says it’s a benefit that an anchor institution such as Rutgers will help lead the conversation, one of what will eventually be on 150 campuses.