Part II of our CASAA Q&A: Opportunities for Community Members, CASAA’s Key Initiatives
Arcadia University’s Q&A three-part series with the founding and associate director of the Center for Anti-Racist Scholarship, Advocacy, and Action, Dr. Doreen Loury and Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack, respectively, continues below. Read part one of the series here.
What opportunities will there be for students to participate in CASAA events and planning? What about faculty, staff, and alumni?
Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack (CV): In our current vision, CASAA is intended as a premiere site for scholarship and therefore we plan to host, starting during the Spring 2022 semester, a series of moderated dialogues on antiracism, racism, and social justice to be called CASAA Conversations. These monthly conversations will be open to all and create a space for honest dialogue on the issues affecting us, using research to guide discourse on current events in the U.S. and beyond. Beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year, CASAA leadership will also direct the Race Matters Forum, spearheaded currently by Dr. Favian Guertin-Martin as well as the members of the Faculty Senate Work and Welfare Committee. These invaluable discussions enable us to advance the ABRI work of the University, to discuss pedagogy and application, and to learn more from our colleagues and invited guests about the histories of BIPOC. At this time, other programming is also in development for summer research workshops, an annual research symposium, opportunities for community-engaged scholarship and activism, and much, much more. In addition to operating as a research center, CASAA is pleased to house some incredible pieces from the Rilling Collection of African and Polynesian art that faculty, staff, students, and alumni can enjoy during our normal operating hours. Our hope is for the campus community to take an interest in this art and the legacies that it represents–part of our mission to recover, reclaim, and elevate marginalized voices.
Dr. Doreen Loury (DL): In line with Dr. Varlack’s vision, as we host honest conversations on issues related to anti-racism, racism, and justice, we will add alumni to those discussions, which for many of them, still present as unhealed wounds—conversations such as what it was like being a student of color at Beaver/Arcadia and, most importantly, how it felt to have their otherness so skillfully managed by deans, faculty, and administrators during their time on campus. Connecting the dots of this past and present reality is much like the experiences alumni Anne Deavere Smith described in her 2021 Atlantic article, “We Were the Last of the Nice Negro Girls,” as she spoke about how the seven Black Women, who in 1968 called themselves the Beaver College Blacks, were ”forging our Black identity and empowering our defiance.” The development of advocacy muscles were, for many of these students, developed at Beaver/Arcadia and research on how it has served them in their personal and professional lives is a field of research that has barely scratched the surface. Additionally, many of our alumni are now engaged in graduate work dealing with issues of race, racism, and advocacy, and CASAA will have the ability to reconnect with them and learn from them as we expand the concept of “community partners” to be even more inclusive.
What are some key initiatives that you envision for CASAA?
DL: One of our key initiatives is to assist in providing resources for CASAA Scholar-Advocates that will enable them to develop research agendas/best practices designed to break through the illogical constancy of racism. In keeping with the Center’s goals of collaboration and partnership, we have established three various groups that will assist the Center in fulfilling its mission/vision. During my time at Arcadia, I have not seen such a coordinated effort that will connect our internal and external community members whose focus will be to combat racism and white supremacy with a local, national, and global eye. These groups, focused on building collaborative partnerships, include:
- The CASAA-Arcadia Advisory Council: This group will focus on stimulating research, programming, and promotion of faculty of scholarship and will help shape the CASAA Scholars Program (at all three levels: faculty, community, and students). The Advisory group will meet monthly.
- The Programs and Initiatives Committee: This group will focus on collaborative partnerships between programs and initiatives on Arcadia’s campus, as consistent with CASAA’s mission, so that we can co-organize events, pool resources, and be better informed about ongoing work. In the development of the Center, we have seen how so many programs and initiatives on campus seem to be sitting in their own silos and not aware of other work on campus, and this community will allow us to “see” each other and come out of those silos. This group will meet at least twice annually.
- The CASAA-Community Advisory Council: This group will focus on establishing community partnerships, developing outreach initiatives, and connecting CASAA to external funding opportunities and donors. This group will meet quarterly.
CV: One of the key steps that scholars and leaders alike have identified in the development of an antiracist agenda is gathering the facts, hence the focus of CASAA as a research center. If we can better understand the structures and the histories of racism, we can better advocate with marginalized and underserved populations in addition to developing a multidimensional action plan toward an antiracist world. In that spirit, we envision the development of what we will call the CASAA Scholar-Advocates Program, as Dr. Loury has mentioned. Upon implementation, this program will provide select faculty and staff (by application) with financial support across a two-year period to advance their scholarship aligned with the Center mission. Those selected will have access to presentation opportunities, workshops, etc. In time, we also hope to provide similar opportunities for community scholars and the University’s emerging scholars at the undergraduate and graduate levels in order to support their important antiracist work. Together, these programs will establish an interconnected network of scholars and advocates able to learn from one another, build collaborative projects, and break down some of the academic or disciplinary silos that can often be a barrier to progressive change. With additional funding from grants and donations, we can scale these initiatives over time and explore new terrain for CASAA.
What will success look like for CASAA? Looking back one year, three years, five years from now, how will we measure our effectiveness?
DL: Success for CASAA entails developing strategies, techniques, and promising practices of racial healing, racial transformation, and racial understanding as the notion of racism continues to change and evolve. A media group, Economist Impact, has a great tagline—”Change the Conversation, Change the World”—and through the Center’s three signature programs (CASAA Scholar-Advocates and the Community and Emerging Scholars Programs) that conversation will definitely be changed. Once these programs are established, these scholars will investigate and identify the problems posed by racism, understand the historical intent and global impact it has created, address the systemic forces that sustain it even today, and provide pathways to discourage, disrupt, and dismantle those systems.
The Center’s plan is to provide a collaborative environment that will foster research, teaching, and learning for each of these groups as they work to reshape the critical issues embedded in racism. It is our plan to offer a Summer Institute that will help connect the intellectual dots of these three groups, enabling them to work and share their projects and, through in-depth analysis, assess their challenges and successes together. Additionally, the Center will offer a Research Symposium showcasing the work produced by these three groups that will assist in building a sustainable research agenda, taking us from the racial discussion and directing us into the advocacy and action stages, thereby allowing us not only to reshape the conversation but the future.
At the same time, the idea of assessment and how to evaluate if “you’re really doing better” is an important concept for the Center to develop. So many times this work is done in a reactive mode, usually in response to the killing of another Black person. However, for those of us who seem to always be in the center of the hurricane, we either don’t have the time or energy to see what works and document those joys and successes. We are so caught up in the challenges, which seem insurmountable, and we tend to be laser focused on anticipating the next challenge waiting around the corner. Therefore, we will support and encourage research that will bridge the personal and systematic components of racism and white supremacy in such a way that one is able to understand and dismantle the scaffolding of these varying issues. The Center will seek out and support research agendas that will develop promising practices that present practical solutions that go beyond “book clubs” and give us a sense of action-oriented strategies, which we can put into action that are designed to uncover the ills caused by inequity. The Center will also engage with other centers around the country that are doing this work and share our different models, strategies, and practices. To date we are not aware of this type of center collaboration and hope CASAA will be a leader in bringing these organizations together
CV: Given the ever-evolving systems of racism, success for CASAA is quite naturally dynamic, which is why developing a center that is both flexible and sustainable in its mission was so vital in our early planning stage. This work is too important and, in the words of President Nair in his June 2020 letter, “our goal must be nothing less than radical change.” That end goal, however, is part of the long-term efforts of the Center, so, for me, the success of CASAA is defined in the short-term by our ability to stimulate antiracist scholarship at the University, to provide a digital resource hub for antiracist work accessible by the wider world, to initiate and/or expand strategic partnerships with community leaders and activists, and to develop a flexible multi-year plan for the Center that can achieve and enhance its core mission. This, I believe, is certainly achievable in the first several years for CASAA as we steadily build up our programming, secure resources, and expand the Center infrastructure to advance some of the aforementioned initiatives that we have planned. Measuring the effectiveness of the Center is, then, a necessary step to ensuring its longevity and ability to move forward with more expansive projects over time. To that end, in February 2022, we created a multidisciplinary Advisory Council that will provide guidance on Center programming and assessment metrics. In addition, we have developed a new Programs and Initiatives Committee with key program leaders, stakeholders in University Relations and Advancement, and administration to increase collaboration with other units on campus, pool resources, and more. Part of our process will also entail gathering regular community feedback from CASAA events and programs, reporting to the University and its administration on the Center progress, and consistently reviewing how CASAA aligns with Arcadia’s adaptive strategy.
Once again, as we continue to develop that multi-year plan in alignment with the Center’s vision, we invite community feedback (reach out to us at email@example.com) on how they envision success and will keep the community abreast of our work via the Center website (find us online at www.arcadia.edu/casaa) and social media. Follow us at @globalcasaa on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for more.