Courage in the face of adversity is no small feat. The Task Force on Racial Justice at Samford University was announced June 4, 2020 in the wake of the racial injustices in America sparked by the death of Mr. George Floyd. Injustices felt around our campus were presented through a video created by our Black Student Union. The encounters, viewpoints and contributions of the students in the twelve-minute video affirmed the need and value of the Task Force. Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Mike Hardin and Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Phil Kimrey asked Assistant Provost for Diversity and Intercultural Initiatives Denise Gregory and Samford Board of Trustees Vice Chair Robert Holmes to serve as co-chairs. With the full support of President Andrew Westmoreland and Bill Stevens, Chair Samford Board of Trustees, the Task Force members were announced June 8, 2020.
The first meeting of the Task Force was held June 30, 2020. During that meeting Andrew Westmoreland shared the charge of the committee.
Samford University Charge to the Task Force on Racial Justice
The primary goal of the Task Force on Racial Justice is to assist the University in fostering positive, enduring changes in campus culture and existing systems so that racial justice may become a known attribute of the institution. Racial injustice at Samford, past and present, will be examined and addressed.
The Task Force will utilize a wide range of materials and human resources to develop immediate and long-term recommendations for the improvement of racial justice at Samford University. Materials may include social media posts, videos, email messages, petitions, on-campus events, assessments and personal accounts of Black students, alumni and employees. Members of the faculty and staff will be available to provide personal experience, input, research and other information requested by the members of the Task Force.
The members of the Task Force will determine processes, priorities and plans for their work. Implicit in the charge to the Task Force is that neither the administration nor the Board of Trustees will interfere with the work of the group, offering the full freedom to understand and put into coherent recommendations measures that will lead toward Samford’s improvement.
Periodic recommendations may be offered by the Task Force, with a final report expected by the end of this calendar year. The final report will be issued simultaneously to the administration and members of the Board of Trustees.
The Task Force is comprised of faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, and trustees who join together to educate and affect change on our campus.
On June 30, 2020, the members formally met each other and shared their connection to Samford. The group agreed that its goal would be to ensure that the work of the Task Force reflect God’s nature, reconciliation and healing, and be congruent to the thoughts and the mission of Samford University. Due to the size of the group, subcommittees were established to accomplish the tasks. Subsequently, the subcommittees were charged with examining multiple areas across Samford in which racial injustice was or has potentially taken place. It was agreed that these subcommittees were needed in order to develop specific action-items that could reform those areas and make them more just. The defined subcommittees are: Definition of Justice, Implicit Bias, Historical Accounts, Curriculum, Employee Hiring, and Personal Responsibility. Additional subcommittees will be created as the work of the Task Force continues. The work of these initial subcommittees is reported below.
Definition of Justice
One of the first concerns addressed was the need to agree on what the Task Force understood to be the definition of justice. A subcommittee to define justice was led by Dennis Sansom, Karon Bowdre and Corey Green. Additional subcommittee members for this working group included Ashley George, Rachel Hagues, Galen Jones, and Amy Simpson. The group worked to develop a definition that is biblically grounded. After review and discussion, the Task Force has agreed that this will be the definition we will operate under when making decisions. The Task Force believes it is important to establish this definition because the definition grounds the action items and recommendations of the Task Force. It is important to note that the subcommittee was not charged with developing the definition of racial justice, but of justice. However, the definition of justice has important implications for the ways the Task Force will approach racial justice.
Justice means “to make right or whole” and is a relational term rooted in God's character and actions. It means people living in right relationship with God, with each other, and with creation by upholding both goodness and impartiality. It affirms that all people enjoy the respect, fairness, and equitable treatment due persons created in the image of God. Our response to God’s love compels us to love our neighbors — and our enemies — in tangible ways. Justice demonstrates love in action; it challenges us to change our hearts and courageously to identify with those who suffer injustices and to right the wrongs. The ultimate arc of justice leads towards reconciliation with God and with each other.
- God is Just, and Christ is the reality and model of God’s justice. God expects and demands justice for all in which everyone is treated fairly and according to their human dignity. Justice requires society to care for the historically disadvantaged and oppressed. Also, justice aims to strengthen the community’s witness of the glory of God and to enable the community to love God and the neighbor more concretely and truly. (Deuteronomy 10.18 — “execute the judgment of the fatherless, and widow, and loves the stranger;” Micah 6.8 — “What does the LORD require of you, to do justice and love mercy;” Psalm 146.7-9 — “who executes judgment for the oppressed;” Matthew 25.45 — “as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.”)
- Justice is an action response to God’s judgment that requires the unjust action to be reversed or made right, if possible. This requires a process of first confession of wrong, repentance for it, submission to God, the duty to do what is right, and finally, a commitment to correct the wrongs. (II Chronicles 7.14 — "turn away from their wicked ways;” Amos 5.15 — “establish judgment in the gate;” Matthew 5.6 — “hunger and thirst after justice,” [dikaiosune]).
- Justice aims for reconciliation among people. However, for reconciliation to occur, there first must be confession, contrition, and repentance for the wrongs and sins done and then forgiveness by those wronged. True reconciliation requires the development of a relationship of trust grounded in love of God and the others. (Isaiah 58.6 — “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? . . . that you break every yoke;” II Corinthians 5.18-21 — “God has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”)
- For all Samford students, faculty, administration, and staff to experience the best that Samford University can offer, justice must become part of the institutional and daily practices of everyone. This requires giving greater voice to minorities in the life of Samford.
- Samford has a timely opportunity to model to society how to act in ways of justice that lead to a better society, that model how to transform our hearts, and that have eternal consequence for God’s providential plans to recreate a new Heaven and Earth.
All persons have implicit biases -- attitudes and perceptions based on an individual’s understanding, experiences, culture, and worldview. Implicit biases impact individual responses and decisions made in an unconscious manner. It is important that each member become aware of their biases and how those biases can affect the work of the Task Force. Jenée Spencer facilitates training in diversity and inclusion across campus. Under her direction an implicit bias subcommittee was formed with members Bobby Gatlin, Justin Hayes, John King, Jewel Littleton and Arden Long. As a result, each member of the Task Force participated in a short training on biases and microaggressions and completed a free preliminary test provided on the website of ReNew Partnerships. The implicit bias subcommittee has worked to educate members of the Task Force for Racial Justice about implicit bias and how biases affect leadership decisions and community relationships. After a virtual education session and follow up conversation, the subcommittee will compose a list of recommendations for the Task Force to consider, including ways to combat injustices that arise because of negative biases. These recommendations will be included in the final deliverable.
Samford University's history has shaped and formed it into what it has become today. History provides the gateway into what Samford has become as a community. It is imperative that the university assess that which has shaped and formed it, both internally and externally. The Task Force recognizes the importance of acknowledging past sins and regrets in order to move forward towards a just and equitable future together – where all races are valued and celebrated for their diversity.
This subcommittee, led by Cameron Thomas, compiles events of racial justice and injustice, both past and present, that impact Samford. Subcommittee members are Hope Dawson, Joe Hopkins, Galen Jones, Brad Radice, Belinda Stroud, Doug Sweeney and Cecelia Walker. The Historical Accounts subcommittee seeks to chronicle Samford’s interactions with racial justice through its history. Its aims is to find events that the Samford community participated in that would provide insight to the current scenario and outlook. Commentary on these events will be included in the final deliverable.
In full recognition that curricular oversight is the purview of Samford faculty, the subcommittee on Curriculum was formed to examine current course offerings at Samford and, if needed, to make recommendations for how the curricular and co-curricular requirements could be enhanced to ensure that students graduate with a better appreciation for diversity and cultures. Subcommittee members include Anna McEwan (chair), Angelia Brooks, Hope Dawson, Lisa Gurley, Alondra Hampton, Rachel Hagues, Jewel Littleton and Cameron Thomas. A detailed analysis of current course offerings will be provided in the report. The Task Force recognizes and affirms the work of faculty to include content related to justice, diversity, and inclusion. Furthermore, it applauds Samford faculty, representing at least 20 academic disciplines, who report themes of racial justice infused throughout courses for a wide range of majors. Discussions of recommendations may include adding elements of racial justice to the Core Curriculum, Foundations, convocations, experiential learning, and new offerings. Again, any suggestions about curriculum enhancements will be offered as recommendations for faculty consideration.
As the Task Force addresses the topics of diversity and inclusion across campus, the importance of diversity must be incorporated into the hiring and retention practices at Samford. This subcommittee seeks to explore best practices for diversifying faculty and staff in higher education, to develop a benchmark measure of diversity in hiring, and to propose policies or programs to assist the university to address the diversity in higher education needs at Samford. Ahinee Amamoo and Anthony Overton are guiding this subcommittee consisting of Angelia Brooks, Stephen Dillard, Arden Long, Ben Shirley, Derrick Sherman and Cameron Thomas. Recommendations will be included in the final deliverable.
Student members of the Task Force pressed upon the group the importance of addressing personal responsibility in student life. The purpose of this subcommittee is to promote cultural awareness amongst students in order to ensure every student is able to fully participate in student life. This subcommittee is led by student leaders Hope Dawson and Alondra Hampton. Danny Woods will also work on this subcommittee. Recommendations will be included in the final deliverable.
As the work of the Task Force continues, additional subcommittees will be added as the needs arise.
In order to facilitate suggestions from everyone in the Samford community, the Task Force has created a form to receive feedback and suggestions. This feedback can be made anonymously. Feedback will be considered and will continue to inform the work of the Task Force on Racial Justice. In addition to ongoing activities already taking place on Samford's campus, the recommendations of the Task Force will support the work to promote racial and social justice and equity within our campus community. As Samford moves forward with the work of the Task Force, members continue to enhance the plan, in preparation for a full detailed report for review.