Important Q&A with Founding and Associate Director of the Center for Antiracist Scholarship, Advocacy, and Action
The founding director and associate director of Center for Antiracist Scholarship, Advocacy, and Action (CASAA) Dr. Doreen Loury and Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack, respectively, answer questions about the importance of CASAA, how the Center plans to engage with the community, and how it plans to shape the thinking and mindset about racism across the globe.
This is the first in this Q&A series with Drs. Loury and Varlack. Read Part II of the series here.
Arcadia: Why is the establishment of CASAA important at Arcadia? Why is it important now?
Dr. Doreen Loury: For me, as a 30 year veteran of Arcadia, CASAA has been both a professional and personal dream for more than 15 years that has finally been realized. To finally have some type of formalized Center that addresses and researches the need for equity and the ills of racism shows me the progress that Arcadia is working toward in the world of DEI. It has been difficult throughout the years as a faculty/staff person to deal with the injustices that so many of our Black and brown students and faculty of color have had to endure at a place where they should have felt safe and secure and able to focus on building a sense of intellectual prowess but instead had to manage or survive so many imposed indignities.
I have watched Arcadia grow and was genuinely impressed when President Nair did not mince words or play verbal gymnastics or a game of intellectual jeopardy with the initiation of our Anti-Black Racism Initiatives (ABRI). For me this meant that we were going beyond playing at diversity and were willing to confront the elephant in the room–white supremacy. We were actually getting down to the weeds of the problem and tackling the real meaning, intent, and impact behind the concepts with a committed Arcadia team. This team worked to develop real time strategies that not only assisted our Arcadia community (to go beyond awareness) but to provide a formalized research structure that would intentionally reach out locally, nationally, and globally. CASAA’s vision and mission clearly provides the roadmap for us to facilitate this work with a focus of developing promising practices that will bring about “societal reform.” A quote from Chris Rock talks about that process: “We treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging Black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.” CASAA will become that much-needed lab.
Dr. Christopher Varlack: In the United States and across the globe, systems of racism–historic and new–continue to impact people of color daily, affecting their access to adequate healthcare, housing, employment opportunities, voting rights, and much more. The result is a world filled with inequities coupled with active efforts to curtail racial advancement, to silence those who challenge the status quo, and to erase the histories of oppression that many find uncomfortable to bear. And yet, despite the deeply rooted nature of racism and white supremacy in the modern world, there is a wave of antiracist scholarship, education, and reform committed to decentering whiteness and the very systems of racism that are root causes of the division we face today. The development of CASAA at Arcadia University is part of that national and global mission–an effort to 1) better understand the histories of racism and the impact of white supremacy on marginalized/minoritized communities, 2) determine best practices and strategies for societal reform, 3) advocate alongside oppressed communities, and 4) take concrete action toward building a more equitable world. After all, the victims of racism in its many forms have felt that stranglehold of oppression for far too long. They have been told to be patient, to compromise, and to have faith. But when “‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never’” when it comes to obtaining freedom, opportunity, and social equity, then it is necessary as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to “create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism.” For me, CASAA is a vital force in that ongoing antiracist mission.
How is Arcadia uniquely or ideally suited to be the home for such an initiative?
DL: The world we live in now has become even more divided over the last few years and it not only saddens but scares me when I look at my grandchildren. The racial chaos coupled with Black fatigue has left little room for hope and “a brighter world.” I’m not even sure what that means anymore. I do, however, know how I felt when I saw a man that looked like my uncle (Mr. George Floyd) murdered before my eyes on national television at the hands of a police officer: horrified–but sadly–not totally surprised. I wanted to be horrified. I wanted to scream. I wanted to say, “How dare you?” But again, what would that accomplish and how would it change things? It hasn’t in the 74 years I’ve been on the planet. However, the Center has the ability to make the horrible visible and intolerable. The Center can and will develop a collaborative research agenda, infused with practical strategies whose impact will have a very long arm to disarm, disrupt, and dismantle systematic inequality and to do as Heather Mizeur espouses, “Let us exist to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
I am not sure about us being uniquely suited for this initiative, but I know Arcadia has the will, the heart, and the spirit to step out on our own convictions and not turn our backs on injustice. So many times we can make a difference just by having the courage to say that this is wrong or not fair and, most importantly, putting the resources, time, effort, and tenacity to 1) look inside our own house first and honestly evaluate its past inequities, 2) face that past and its discomfort, and 3) push forward and begin the work in earnest to become the “house of the righteous.”
CV: The murder of George Floyd at the hands of former officer Derek Chauvin was a catalyst for much of the antiracist work now taking place in the United States, as the hearts and minds of people across the nation were deeply shaken by the video aired repeatedly on major news programs as a part of developing discourse on anti-Black violence and police brutality. At Arcadia, that impact was felt as well. In June 2020, President Nair wrote to the campus community, setting a clear goal of “radical change”–the starting point for the ABRI that have since encouraged curricular change, conversations about inclusive pedagogy, and re-examination of our own systems at the University to improve the experiences for students of color. CASAA is part of the many steps that President Nair outlined, for the research into antiracist practices and systems of racism can aid in the larger work of the University and extend those endeavors beyond, tackling racism and discrimination not just at the local level but also the national level and abroad. Because of the existing commitment to this work, the lived values upon which the University is based, and the overarching dedication of our faculty, staff, and students to being agents of change, Arcadia is well-suited for a center such as CASAA.
How do you plan to engage with the community at Arcadia and beyond?
DL: As a 30 year veteran of Arcadia, I have always worked hard to connect with our surrounding community from Glenside, to Philadelphia, to London. This is particularly impactful as we do the work of antiracism and understand its global reach and intent. The Center will definitely continue many of these past and current partnerships and will bring others into the fold. For instance, I am currently working with Senator Art Haywood and his End Campus Racism Campaign at the PASSHE Universities around the issues that Black students have put forth regarding their ill treatment on those campuses. I will also continue work with the College Prep Roundtable as they seek to educate parents and students around financial aid and college access for marginalized populations, the various sororities and fraternities in the area, as well as non-profits as they develop DEI programming efforts and the faithful local, stat, and national partners of the Black Male Development Symposium who have always been committed to the mission of racial healing. The Center will provide opportunities for collaborative research with like-minded partners who will assist us in facilitating our vision and mission.
CV: For the working group tasked with constructing the vision and infrastructure for CASAA, community engagement has always been a core part of the Center’s mission to support existing and future scholarship from members of the Arcadia community and to engage with the broader public on grassroots initiatives aimed at racial justice and systemic change. Much of the work over the first few years in the Center will be devoted to providing that network of support for faculty, staff, and students. This includes securing funding for microgrants for research projects, offering publication workshops and peer-review sessions as our scholars prepare to share their research with the wider world, arranging an annual research symposium centered on antiracism, and more. At the same time, we plan to strengthen existing partnerships with community leaders and to foster new relationships with community members whose voices can offer much-needed guidance to support our advocacy efforts. This, however, is just a starting point for CASAA. With an eye toward global studies on antiracism, racism, and racial justice, we intend to network through conferences and collaborations with the many other antiracist and social justice organizations at work across the world. As we continue to develop a multi-year plan in alignment with the Center’s vision, we invite community feedback (reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org) and will keep the community abreast of our work via the Center website (find us online at arcadia.edu/casaa) and social media. Follow us at @globalcasaa on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for more.