Social Justice

Starting in 2021, the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston (CSSC) has established the Social Justice Working Group chaired by Dr. Jen Wright, Professor of Psychology, wrightjj1@cofc.edu. Please check back in Fall 2021 for updates. 

Call for Racial and Social Justice at the College of Charleston

Text: The Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston (CSSC) stands in complete solidarity and allyship with the families, protestors, and community members grieving and demanding justice for the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery — and our own Walter Scott and the Emmanuel 9 (to name only a few). We recognize that these acts of violence are deeply rooted in the institution of slavery which served to deny the sanctity and sovereignty of Black life. As a Center that studies the history and legacies of chattel slavery in the South, we see the recent instances of brutality occurring nationally and in Charleston as but the latest manifestations of our country’s long history of violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples. We are deeply pained by these tragic events, which serve to remind us all that the history of racism and white supremacy are clearly not past: we are still living them, and they are ever-present on our campus and in our local community. Because of this, the CSSC was established in 2018 to foster a deeper public understanding of slavery and its complex legacies. A part of our mission is to raise awareness and fight to bring an end to their brutal impacts. It is in this spirit that we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and campus activists.  We demand social justice. In March 2020, we had planned a community-wide conversation on reparations in Charleston that was interrupted by COVID-19. The combined tragedies of state violence against Black Americans and the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on the Black community highlight the urgency of this work. We call on the College of Charleston leadership to make good on its promise to combat racism and white privilege by dedicating more robust support to the CSSC. And in turn, the CSSC pledges to advance learning and research experiences for our students, staff, and faculty to further our understanding of how our history of slavery shapes the present, and to collaborate with members of the campus and Charleston community to create programming and restorative dialogue to promote social justice, racial healing, reconciliation, and transformational change. We see our work as a tangible affirmation that Black Lives Matter (and have always mattered).

CSSC Social Justice Working Group

As members of CSSC, which studies slavery’s history and legacies, we recognize this summer’s recent instances of brutality as manifestations of our country’s long history of violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples. The histories of racism and white supremacy are clearly not past: we are still living them, and they are ever-present in our daily interactions and institutions. Because of this, the CSSC was established in 2018 to foster a deeper public understanding of slavery and its complex legacies, and to use that understanding to bring about racial reconciliation, healing, and repair. It is to this end that we demand reparations and social justice. 

We call upon the College to commit resources to promoting racial healing and repairing the systemic injustices created by slavery and racism on our campus and in our local community. Our policies, curriculum, and spending priorities must be intentionally and explicitly antiracist. 

In our new Strategic Plan, the College defines itself as a “transformative national university.” To transform our students, faculty/staff, and community, the College must prioritize all the “Initiatives for Implementation” in the Strategic Plan that address the inequities and injustices of systemic racism.  We also call upon the College to enable CSSC and other campus and community groups to play an active role in developing and implementing these initiatives and measuring the College’s progress.

We call upon upon the College to transform itself into a fully anti-racist and equitable campus by prioritizing the following: 

  1. Permanently fund the Center for the Study of Slavery to function as an educational resource and a thought-action leader. The College and the city of Charleston were built by enslaved bodies and souls. We must become conscious of our community’s true history. If the College sees the Center as a way of reckoning with the vestiges of slavery, as it was founded to do, then it is imperative for the Center to be adequately supported to carry out that mission of education, reconciliation, and repair.
  2. Require all College of Charleston students to study Charleston’s transnational history of slavery, colonialism, and race. Charleston’s history includes African, Caribbean, and European cultures and took shape in an indigenous America. Let’s be sure our students and community know this history, and its value to the present. We support the 2-course series proposed by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Creation of a Race, Equity, and Inclusion Requirement. To carry out this work, the College must provide increased funding for the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and convert African American Studies from a program into a full department.
  3. Increase co-curricular opportunities for students to engage with the campus and community in pursuit of anti-racism and social and environmental justice. The College must increase substantive opportunities (internships, fellowships, etc) for students to engage in this work so that at least half of our students do so during their time at CofC.
  4. Bring the College’s Black student population up to at least 30% of the student body. The current population of Black students at this public university is only 8%. Meanwhile the African American population in the City of Charleston is 28%,  47% percent in North Charleston, and approximately 30% in the state of South Carolina.  The College of Charleston has an historical and moral duty to make the College representative of the entire Charleston community. We also must support students with a welcoming and inclusive campus environment and create much stronger connections with Black alumni. All this will demonstrate C of C’s 21st century commitment to Black lives and Black agency.
  5. Provide transformational financial support, in partnership with local and state government, in the form of student scholarships for Charleston residents of color in order to combat the underrepresentation of students of color on campus. The College, the city, and the state must make amends for the economic and social opportunities stolen away from people of African and indigenous descent. One example of the substantive support the College should provide is the McNair Scholars Program, which is designed to provide first generation and minority students with financial and academic support to prepare for graduate school. This program was originally launched at CofC in 2009-2010, but then was not successfully renewed.
  6. Transform the visual and memorial landscape of the campus by changing names and signage honoring slave owners, segregationists, and those who promoted racist policies, and by including visual recognitions of the contributions and achievements of African-descended people. As alumni and students have advocated, the College needs to create an inclusive and safe space for learning and educational exchange for the entire community. To support this, we also demand that the College commit to ongoing research on the history of its campus and publicize the full history of the structures and the people who built them. Students and faculty who do this research should receive institutional support and an appropriate forum for publishing their findings. Students, staff, and faculty should be free to publicly express their affiliation with organizations that uphold anti-racist values. The history and people we celebrate on campus should represent the anti-racist and anti-hate values we aspire to teach and live by.
  7. Require all College of Charleston employees to participate in substantive anti-racism training. These activities should shift the burden of unpacking and dismantling white privilege in the workplace away from our students, staff, and faculty of color (see Whiteness at Work webinar). Hourly and adjunct employees should be paid for their time spent undergoing such training.
  8. Prioritize hiring Black faculty and staff, so that these demographics reflect those of the state. It is important for all students to learn from faculty and staff from diverse cultural and racial backgrounds. A university in the modern world requires bringing unique ideas and experiences into contact and exchange.
  9. Elevate the status of the College’s primarily Black contracted staff in housekeeping, groundskeeping, maintenance, food services, security, and other essential campus services. College leadership can set the tone for the entire campus to recognize and empower these individuals. They perform labor that is fundamental to the College, and many have multi-generational ties to the campus. The College can include these employees in decision-making processes, publicly honor the work they do, and increase their participation in communal College life. The College should commit to improved wages and benefits, representation on staff committees, appropriate break spaces, and the free access to campus programming and events that other employees receive.
  10. Implement more socially-just policing practices. Identifying suspects based solely on race must end. Campus security and the local Charleston police force should release non-racialized reports and warnings to the College community.  The College’s Department of Public Safety should undergo an independent racial bias audit, similar to the one performed by CNA for the City of Charleston, and then commit to implementing its recommendations. Redirecting police funding to community outreach and community programming is essential to building trust between the university and its neighbors.

CSSC Social Justice Working Group: Jen Wright (chair), Lisa Covert, Matthew Cressler, Julia Eichelberger, Courtney Hicks, Blake Scott, Marjory Wentworth, Lisa Young.

CSSC Executive Board: Bernard Powers (director), Shannon Eaves, Julia Eichelberger, Grant Gilmore, Celeste Greene, Aaisha Haykal, Simon Lewis, Kameelah Martin.

Updated: September 2020