After Houston native George Floyd’s tragic death, Prairie View A&M University announced it is launching a Center for Race and Justice and requiring a mandatory history of race class for incoming students.
The historically black university about 50 miles outside of Houston, Texas is no stranger to injustice after the mysterious death of Sandra Bland affected its community. President Ruth Simmons issued a statement following the recent events about the new initiatives that are planned for the university.
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In the statement, she says she fears for her students posing various questions like “how will they react to the damning narrative of recent instances of African American men and women betrayed by the history of the country they love? How will their futures be affected by the events unfolding across the country? Will those who are African American, Latino, Asian, gay, bisexual, and transgender be ever afraid to encounter police as they go about their lawful activities? Will our white students, faculty, and staff understand their duty and opportunity in such a time as this?”
According to Simmons, the Center for Race and Justice will “encourage teaching and scholarship that contributes positively to overturning systemic biases that impede the ability of minorities and other groups to be accorded their full rights under the U.S. Constitution.”
Though the plan is still pending in the Texas A&M System, Simmons knows that these grassroots initiatives will impact the community over time. She states in her letter “for too long, we have been content to have others dictate the limits of our ability to act: individuals who call for a different course of action, those who are concerned about the controversy, those who advocate ‘staying in our lane.’”
Along with the course and the center, the university plans to bring other initiatives to keep students educated by having an “Activist in Residence” position. This position will bring advocates, activists, and other personnel who have made a difference in justice or solving systemic social issues.
An annual award will also be in place. The “Sandra Bland/Robbie Tolan Award” named after two PVAMU graduates will “acknowledge the important work of activists and the understanding of criminal justice reform.”
Bland’s death made national news after she died in Waller County Jail in 2015 after a traffic stop and an altercation with a police officer. Tolan, a survivor of police brutality was unarmed and shot after the police mistook his car as stolen.
The university is taking many steps to ensure not only the safety of its students but also that they are educated by creating a “committee to recommend steps that can be taken to address social inequities that students might encounter, including police misconduct, discrimination, and voter suppression.”
Simmons emphasizes that there are still long term effects of racism that also include academic performance which explains the depth of the plans for her students.
“Our students, no matter their major or their race, should understand the impact of the racialized history of the United States on their personal as well as professional lives. Fighting racism and discrimination and upholding justice must always be among our highest callings.”