For the second year, Vanderbilt Divinity School played host to the Summer Institute of the Vanderbilt Divinity School Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative. Held May 20-24, attendees gathered under the theme “Policy, Politics and Privilege: The Prophetic Response to Racist Governance.”
The theme reflected “the necessity of being engaged and aware of issues that are shaping us as a nation, as individuals, and as communities,” wrote Emilie M. Townes, director of the collaborative and dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, in a welcome letter to participants.
The week combined spiritual and intellectual disciplines in a variety of talks, lectures, centering exercises, processing salons, artistic expressions and performances. More than two dozen collaborative fellows returned to participate in this year’s institute and kicked off the week with talks in Benton Chapel.
Featured speakers throughout the week included:
Nancy MacLean - an award-winning scholar of the twentieth-century U.S. and author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
Dr. Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. - chair of the Department of African American Studies and the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University.
Ruby Sales - an African-American social activist, who attended local segregated schools and educated in the community during the 1960s era of the Civil Rights Movement.
Judge Wendell Griffen - an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Two academic tracks were available to follow, led by these lecturers:
Track 1: Racist Governance
Dr. Emilie M. Townes - Vexations: Religion and Politics in the Black Community
Dr. Daniel Cornfield - Labor: Occupational Activism
Professor Karla McKanders - Immigration: Sustaining Tiered Personhood: Jim Crow and Anti-Immigration Laws
Track 2: Racialized Economics
Dr. Herbert Marbury - Housing and Urban Development: The Role of Racist Governance
Dr. Shameka Cathey - Public Policy: Racial Justice and the Wealth Gap
Dr. Daniel Sharfstein - Law: The Politics of Division
Dr. Carjie Scott, an Associate Director of Admissions Operations for Vanderbilt and an educator, speaker and blogger said this about her experience as an attendee:
“I feel empowered and compelled to make a difference in the world. As a Nashville transplant, I’ve been in search for a community that I can call my own. I believe that I found that this week.”
In addition to working for Vanderbilt and serving on a number of advisory committees, she’s a board member and volunteer for a number of non-profit organizations that encourage literacy, equity, and education access.
“I now realize that I was born for a time such as this,” Scott said. “I finally truly understand the importance of authenticity and owning my story. I realize that it is my responsibility to care for the community I come from. I am going to be a participant in lasting change. This program has called me out; so, I must act on everything I’ve learned.”
The following were common readings that framed the week. These are recommended must-reads for context to the issues explored at the institute:
Fearless Dialogues excerpt (PDF download)
White Rage excerpt (PDF download)
Toni Morrison, The Origin of Others
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(Photos courtesy Vanderbilt Divinity School)