It was just a year ago that the horrific and senseless act at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church sent shock waves throughout the state and nation. Racial hatred in the form of a young white assailant cost nine black South Carolinians their lives. Yet, in return, the victims’ families taught the world a humbling lesson about the power and grace of forgiveness.
This week, USC’s Institute for Public Service and Policy Research released a study assessing race relations a year later. The study found that a much higher percentage of blacks than whites rate race relations in the state as poor — 32 percent to 10 percent; whites were much more likely to rate them as good — 49 percent to 24 percent. Black respondents were also more likely than whites to believe that race relations within the state were getting worse while more whites thought they were getting somewhat better or had stayed about the same.
Clearly, this is an affirmation that ongoing interracial conversations are not only desirable but also sorely needed. The University of South Carolina, the state’s flagship institution, is uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in moving state race relations forward.
As we continue our campus dialog through listening forums, campus climate surveys and a new strategic plan around diversity and inclusion initiatives, we are also extending our reach to the community and state at large. For example, in the fall we announced the creation of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research. Designed to be a central repository for South Carolina’s civil rights story, including Congressman Jim Clyburn’s congressional papers, the center will become a place to spark essential conversations with the hope for meaningful interactions and reconciliation.
This fall we will add another layer to our initiatives as we introduce the S.C. Collaborative on Racial Reconciliation and launch its primary program, the Welcome Table SC.
In preparation, we have completed our “Train the Trainer” sessions to assist faculty, students and staff as they create spaces for healthy dialog about race while encouraging thoughtful actions that will lead toward reconciliation and healing of both racial and social differences. Soon, we will extend the Welcome Table SC structure to communities throughout South Carolina where facilitators will guide hundreds of thoughtful, healing conversations.
Establishing an improved and open climate through the use of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research and the Welcome Table SC are critical first steps to help create a greater unity of purpose and a deeper sense of sister and brotherhood. As the late Maya Angelou said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” At South Carolina, we believe that courage, renewed conversation, communication and ultimately reconciliation will be one of the great legacies of the Emanuel nine.
Dr. Pastides is president of the University of South Carolina; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org..