A group of people assembled in downtown DeLand to protest racial injustices. Photo from Eli Witek of the West Volusia Beacon.

Commitment to Anti-Racism

Statement from the Staff of the Center for Community Engagement
 
On this June 19, 2020, we join communities in DeLand and around our country to celebrate the day that the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached the last people still enslaved in the United States in Galveston, Texas in 1865 – the holiday of Juneteenth.
 
As we know too well, though, the absence of slavery has not guaranteed the presence of justice for Black and Brown people in our country. Only three weeks ago, millions of people across our country began protesting the scourges of police brutality and White vigilantism that took the lives of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. Despite those protests and messages ascending the heights of our national – and international – consciousness, another Black man, Rayshard Brooks, was murdered by Atlanta police officers when they shot him in the back while he tried to run away. These recent heinous incidents speak nothing still of the centuries of systemic oppression that have disproportionately deprived Black and Brown people in our country of their lives, liberties, and properties.
 
We know well, too, that the absence of slavery has not guaranteed the presence of justice for Black and Brown people even in our own Stetson community. Stetson faculty and staff invited speakers to campus who actively supported the Ku Klux Klan at least through the 1920s, and the faculty themselves participated in blackface-wearing Minstrels at least through the 1950’s. Stetson did not admit its first Black student until 1962, almost 80 years after its founding. Stetson’s expansions south and east have contributed to the gentrification and displacement of historically African American neighborhoods like Red City while building the assets of the University. Even today, Stetson’s students who are Black graduate at a rate that is eleven percent lower than its students who are White, and 23% of Stetson community members who completed the 2016 Campus Climate survey reported experiencing exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile conduct – conduct that has been called-out and chronicled through recent threads led by Black alumni on Twitter and Facebook.
 
As the staff of the Stetson University Center for Community Engagement, we are tasked with operationalizing both the academic and civic missions of the University – to not only help our students learn, but to help them apply what they are learning to address the many pressing challenges facing our communities. The key word there is “communities”, for all our work is done with our community partners – partners who work in non-profits, businesses, government, and civic groups, and who are often different from our students in age, race, religion, politics, sexual orientation, gender identity, and myriad other ways.
 
For us to meet our mission, we, therefore, must unapologetically and consistently center our work around the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. We can’t solve meaningful problems if everyone has the same lived experiences and therefore looks at the problems the same ways – that’s why diversity is important. We can’t solve meaningful problems if some of our neighbors have to choose between participation and earning a paycheck because they lack the resources to take time off of work – that’s why equity is important. We can’t solve meaningful problems if some voices are silenced and not given a seat at the table – that’s why inclusion is important. And, we can’t solve meaningful problems if we do not understand, then seek, structural changes to address the root causes of oppression – that’s why justice is important.
 
To those ends, we commit to the following actions:
  • We will require all students who seek recognition of their volunteer hours in the community – a process that is controlled by our department – to first participate in a training program focusing on power, privilege, and place through the lenses of identity development and anti-racist action.
  • We will prioritize development of partnerships and community-engaged learning opportunities that combat systemic oppression, especially through the focus areas of education, health, environment, civil rights, and economic development – including, but not limited to, community asset and needs mapping; studying and sharing the economic, health, and environmental impacts of annexing Spring Hill into the city of DeLand; creating a directory of Black-owned businesses and organizations; and supporting the revitalization of a Spring Hill business district.
  • We will focus the work of our two full-time AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers on addressing systemic inequities in DeLand’s Spring Hill community, with a focus on eliminating barriers to economic opportunity for Spring Hill residents, through work with partners such as the Cusack Spring Hill Resource Center.
  • We will leverage funds from our endowments to create a stipended Community Development Fellowship, held by a community member who already works primarily in the Spring Hill community, to assist our office in short- and long-term planning that maximizes the benefit of our work with the Spring Hill and DeLand community.
  • We will create and implement a Social Action Training Series, available to all students, that will train students on the fundamentals of creating systemic change through non-partisan political affairs, including policy research and advocacy, voter registration and outreach, community organizing and mobilization, and running and winning campaigns.
  • We will continue to deconstruct our own biases and assumptions, especially given that our staff is all white, through common readings and discussions, beginning with Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy.
  • We will increase the number of students of color in our Bonner Program (and in other cohort-based programs we may eventually develop) by doing more targeted recruitment at high schools and community colleges that have programs focusing on social justice and community engagement.
By owning up to our history, continuously reflecting on our personal biases and racist views, leveraging our assets, and focusing on policy change, our team stands against the forces of systemic racism and oppression that continuously harm Black and Brown residents of our community. But, as long as those systems of racism and oppression persist, so must we persist in reminding our community, through our words and deeds, that #BlackLivesMatter.