Racial Healing in Berea

In August 2018 I received an email from Linda Strong-Leek, the Berea College Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion. It was a call for applications to join a group called Collaborative Racial Healing Community (CRH).

It said,

 “As public displays of white nationalism increase and racial tensions appear set to continue, many of us have wondered what might be done to resist the tide of the current historical moment and encourage racial healing. 

(CRH) Learning Community will be aimed at exploring these necessary and timely questions: What is our vision for the future of racial healing and transformation at Berea College? What would it look like for Berea to be a racially transformed community? What are the possible ways we could get there? What have we left to try? What has    served us well in the past? What can we dream for the future?”

This intrigued me. For years I felt a growing sense of urgency talk about race with family, friends, and neighbors ever since the election of 2016, and here was an invitation to explore this topic in great depth with my fellow colleagues! At the same time I doubted I was qualified to be accepted into such a group. I don’t have a Ph.D. I am a white female who grew up in predominantly white communities before coming to Berea. What did I have to offer?

However, my curiosity and desire to be a part of this important movement overcame my fear of rejection so I went ahead and applied. A few weeks later I received a letter in the mail saying I was selected to be a member of this the CRH Learning Community. I was thrilled! I couldn’t wait to dive in and begin exploring ways we could promote racial healing on our campus and provide programming and events to promote racial healing.

I soon found out, CRH was less about outward efforts to educate our campus, and more about turning inward and nourishing a sense of racial healing within ourselves. This was very different than what I expected. Race is not an easy topic, especially among people from different racial backgrounds from your own, and the group challenged me to be honest, empathetic, and brave. As we established at during our very first CRH meeting “We have to create brave spaces (not safe spaces) in order to have productive conversations about race.”

The first couple of months were spent sharing our stories about when and how we came to realize our own racial identity. There was a sense of intimacy in this group that I had never experienced on other campus committees and groups. Each story was unique and meaningful, and it was clear a lot of intentional self-reflection went into these narratives. Hearing them inspired me to look deeper into my own.

The group met biweekly throughout the course of the year: sharing stories, discussing relevant issues on campus, taking turns to facilitate meetings, and hosting a book club on Tommy Orange’s novel There, There. I grew much more confident in navigating conversations surrounding race and developed a sense of responsibility to be more active in these conversations on our campus.

I can’t say enough, how grateful I am for this valuable experience. Not only do I feel better equipped to join in difficult conversations about race, I made genuine friendships among my colleagues that extend well beyond the typical co-worker relationship. I cherish these friendships. I have tremendous love and admiration for the 13 other faculty and staff members in this group from varying departments and diverse racial backgrounds. I can easily say being a part of this group has been the highlight of my year here in my work at Berea College.

Article written by Heather Dent