View of a building and street signs that say Black Lives Matter plaza and 16th Street
Category: Discovery & Impact

Title: University Holds Racial Justice Dialogue in Wake of Recent, Past Police Brutality

Screenshot with the words "Racism in Our Streets and Structures: A Test of Faith, A Crisis for Our Nation

Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor of history and African American studies Marcia Chatelain, Ralph McCloud, director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ anti-poverty program and Gloria Purvis, host of the EWTN radio show “Morning Glory,” comprised the rest of the panel.

100 Years of Lessons

Chatelain expressed concern that incidents of police brutality, as well as inequities in other sectors for Black people, may continue unless there is radical, systemic change.

Marcia Chatelain
Marcia Chatelain

“My last book was about the past 50 years of state failure in Black communities,” said the author of Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America ( Liveright, 2019). “And if you go back a hundred years and you look at the right conditions of 1919, what are Black people saying? Police brutality, not enough jobs, poor schools for our kids, lack of health care, terrorism by our white brothers.”

“And so if we’ve had a hundred years to learn this lesson, I don’t know what will make this moment different.”

Psychic Hold

President John J. DeGioia wrote in a May 31 message to the Georgetown community that the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police “once again present our country – and each one of us – with the imperative to confront the enduring legacy of slavery and segregation in America.”

“Our role in society – to pursue the truth – through the methodologies and disciplines through which we establish knowledge in our world, demands our engagement,” he wrote. “… We also know that the very ideas of race and subsequently of racism are social constructs, the product of early American scholarship, developed and nurtured in order to justify the institution of slavery.”

Two prominent experts on the legacy of slavery –  African American studies and performing arts professor Soyica Colbert (C’01) and Robert Patterson (C’02), professor of African American studies – have engaged in more than one of Georgetown’s recent conversations.

Their book, The Psychic Hold of Slavery: Legacies in American Expressive Culture (Rutgers University Press, 2016) is as relevant as it was when they began to think about it in 2014, they said.

Soyica Colbert
Soyica Colbert

“We were struck by the coincidence of having the first Black president and also having [an increase] of killings, including the death of Trayvon Martin and many others …,” Colbert recalled during a June 4 virtual presentation with Patterson to Georgetown alumni.

“The conversation we were trying to stage, which was really about how our current moment was related to the history and legacies of slavery, I think has even more resonance, obviously … in regard to the past nine days and certainly the past three-and-a-half years,” said Colbert, who is also vice dean of faculty and the Idol Family Professor in Georgetown College.


Anti-Black Racism

The authors also participated in a Georgetown College virtual “Teach-in” last week – “From COVID to Minneapolis: Structural Racism in America.”

Moderated by Colbert, the session also included African American studies professor Zandria Robinson, philosophy professor Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò and history professor Michael Kazin.

Robinson said gentrification is something that should actively be thought of as a form of violence.

Zandria Robinson
Zandria Robinson

“Black individuals are being pushed out of their home cities like Washington, DC, which has turned from a chocolate city to a latte city,” says Robinson. “This is something we are seeing across the country.”

Intensifying Action

Andria Wisler, executive director of the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching, and Service (CSJ), said the center is renewing its efforts to fight for racial justice.

“We will deepen our commitments – in collaboration with students, faculty and staff at Georgetown – to engage in the cause of racial justice in Washington, DC and beyond through advocacy, activism, new avenues of research and teaching, as well as community-based learning,” she said.

Respectful Dialogue

There are more conversations to come.

A recently announced university-wide series on “Conversations About the Unfinished Business of Race in the United States of America,” for example, will cover such topics as the impact of gentrification in Black communities, income equality, health disparities, equal justice, and whether redlining is a relic of the past.

The series, which will begin later this month, will include Georgetown faculty, staff, students and national experts.

“At Georgetown, we are strongly committed to building a supportive, compassionate and informed community based on our Jesuit ideals and commitment to social justice,” wrote Rosemary Kilkenny (L’87), chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, in announcing the series with Provost Robert Groves. “It is our priority to exemplify and promote a diverse community inclusive of talents, interests and backgrounds for the common good, and to use respectful dialogue and points of commonality in areas of disagreement.”

Removing Barriers

Rosemary Kilkenny
Rosemary Kilkenny

Students have participated in protests as well as sponsored their own conversations.

The Black Student Association of the Georgetown Qatar campus, for example, held a Black Lives Matter webinar on police brutality and racial justice in America June 4 with professors Maurice Jackson, Karine Walther and Clyde Wilcox.

Kilkenny says conversations are important but are at the same time not enough.

“All of us – Georgetown Law, the Medical Center and Main Campus – are engaging in conversations,” she added, “but at the end of the day, what are we going to do? How do those conversations translate into concrete action steps that the university could be taking to begin to remove some of the barriers that people feel are keeping them from fully realizing their potential?”

Screenshot with seal of Georgetown University and the words Welcome to From Covid to Minneapolis Structural Racism in America