2020 was a year of civil unrest. The murder of George Floyd sparked outrage across the country, inspiring many people and institutions to reflect on how they could be better allies in the fight against racism. Samford was no different.
That same year, the university embarked on a racial reconciliation initiative–forming a Task Force on Racial Justice, endorsed by then-President Andrew Westmoreland and led by the provost and the Office of Diversity and Intercultural Initiatives. The task force was comprised of faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni and trustees.
"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," the Task Force’s final report reads. "Racial injustice at Samford, past and present, have been examined and addressed."
After much deliberation, the task force offered several recommendations, including an interdisciplinary minor on racial justice— something the Department of Geography and Sociology and specifically sociology professor Theresa Davidson volunteered to take on.
"I immediately knew that it made complete sense for this to be housed in sociology,” Davidson said. “Sociology is a framework that lets us see the context in which difference is created, constructed and sustained. So, with that framework and paradigm, the minor provides a unique space to explore these constructions.”
As a follow-up measure to the final report of the Task Force on Racial Justice, which was affirmed by Samford’s Board of Trustees in April of 2021, Samford launched the Diversity Action Planning Committee (DAPC). The DAPC was tasked with developing an actionable plan – the Diversity Action Plan – to implement the recommendations of the Task Force’s final report. For more than a year, Davidson and a departmental committee worked with the Diversity Action Planning Committee and other Howard College of Arts and Sciences faculty to develop the curriculum for this minor. It had to be interdisciplinary and not just about race.
"Race, ethnicity and culture had to be throughout the curriculum and the courses,” Davidson said. “It had to be front and center. There also had to be a social justice undertone.”
The Race, Ethnicity and Social Justice minor was approved by Samford in the spring and went live in fall 2022. Students interested in learning and advocating for equality can now enroll in the program.
"We are excited to provide this opportunity to students to broaden their knowledge on this topic,” said Associate Provost for Student Success and Diversity and Inclusion Denise Gregory. “It is a direct action of the Task Force’s recommendation. To see it implemented is another step towards creating a campus culture that fosters positive growth towards racial justice.”
"More than anything, we're happy that students now have the option not just to study something of interest to them but find a way to possibly put into action some of the energy that they have towards social justice," Davidson said.
Students enrolled in this minor will learn about the history, social and political context and culture of racial and ethnic groups, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and other historically marginalized groups.
"They might be a little uncomfortable and I'm okay with that," Davidson said. "Education should do that, but it's still a safe academic space for discussion, discourse and sharing."
A proposal submitted for the Race, Ethnicity and Social Justice minor's approval reads, "Students will gain an appreciation for diverse cultures and convictions and learn to interact in ways that demonstrate respect, fairness and equitable treatment to all."
“We tend to hang out with people who are like us, and when we have these conversations across differences, it helps us to see other people's perspective and to see them as human," Davidson said.
Samford's mission as a Christ-centered institution is to treat every Samford student with love, respect and dignity. It's the main reason why the university felt compelled to act and form this minor.
The final report continues, “Samford is a Christian university whose faculty and staff advocate that all people be treated as Jesus, his prophets and apostles instruct us in the Bible: with divine justice and love. We are not advocating racial justice out of allegiance to any secular ideology or political party platform, but out of allegiance to God and His Word.”
"Students and faculty may not have the language in their faith tradition to have these conversations,” Davidson said. “I think the courses that are a part of this minor will help them to have better conversations and be more empathetic and oriented towards justice and equality, which, in my opinion, is what any faith tradition should be about.”
Learn more about the Race, Ethnicity and Social Justice minor.