The Samford University Alumni Association recently hosted its October edition of the Samford Alumni Webinar Series. The series, which takes place three times annually, covers a variety of topics and experiences to provide alumni with a meaningful opportunity to learn from community leaders and accomplished professionals. The October webinar featured Denise Gregory and Robert Holmes, co-chairs of the Task Force on Racial Justice at Samford University. Gregory serves Samford as the assistant provost for diversity and intercultural initiatives and also an assistant professor of chemistry. Holmes is the vice-chairman of Samford’s Board of Trustees and is retired from serving as a vice president at Alabama Power.
During the 45-minute session, Gregory and Holmes described the task force's establishment, explained its purpose and noted steps the committee has taken thus far. They reiterated that the primary goal of the 36-member task force is to “assist Samford in fostering positive, enduring changes in campus culture and existing systems so that racial justice may become a known attribute of the institution.”
“We take it seriously. All the members of the committee have been galvanized as much as we can, virtually, to this notion of what our charter is. We have prayerfully and without any equivocation kept grounded in the fact that our faith is leading us, and we ask the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us as we try to make an impact that is sustainable,” Holmes said.
Holmes said one of the foremost questions he raises during the task force meetings is, “How does this change the culture? How does it begin to speak into the hearts of individuals who are part of the Samford Family?” “So, it’s imperative from my perspective and from Dr. Gregory’s also, that we are all grounded in speaking from what I believe is the mission, purpose and vision of Samford, and that is consistent with the Baptist faith,” Holmes said.
Gregory and Holmes explained that, because the task force is so large, they felt the best way to be productive and efficient was to divide members into subcommittees, which continue to evolve as need arises.
The Definitions subcommittee is charged with creating a clear, concise and consistent way of viewing terms like “justice” and “climate” in light of the task force’s efforts to create positive change. The members are committed to helping the task force agree on vocabulary and ensuring that their terminology remains based on Christian principles and Biblical interpretation.
The Curriculum subcommittee is working to affirm the faculty's work while analyzing course offerings and making recommendations for curricular enhancements.
The Hiring subcommittee analyzes faculty demographics, including the length of service for faculty members across disciplines, and determining best practices for diversifying faculty and staff.
The Historical Accounts subcommittee is charged with studying the university’s past through research and conversations with historians. The committee will provide a detailed report of its work and make recommendations based on its findings.
The Personal Responsibility subcommittee, recommended by students on the task force, hopes to encourage students to break down barriers and take personal responsibility for making Samford a place where all students feel welcome and respected.
The Recruitment subcommittee addresses opportunities and best practices for recruiting a diverse student body.
The Spiritual Development subcommittee is analyzing convocation and spiritual development opportunities as well as community relations and partnerships related to diversity.
The Trainings subcommittee deals with training opportunities for the Samford community, including implicit bias training for student organizations and employees.
The task force will continue to host listening sessions, provide feedback and convene in subcommittees and large group meetings to provide a thorough report and action recommendations for university leadership this year.
In addition to the webinar series, Samford University Alumni Association is hosting several events for chapters to connect remotely, including a book club, professional development and worship.