Editor’s Note: At a time when universities across the country are struggling with how to talk about anti-black racism and police brutality, we sat down with Dr. Felicia Brown-Haywood, Chief Diversity Officer at Millersville, to discuss what Millersville University is doing and what it needs to do. Brown-Haywood, who describes herself as “a woman with a burden for justice,” has more than 20 years of experience in higher education. She holds a D.Ed. in adult education and lifelong learning from Penn State University, a master’s degree in professional counseling/student personnel from Shippensburg University, a master’s degree in theology/pastoral counseling from Virginia Union University and a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation from Cheyney University. In addition, she is a licensed professional counselor and a national certified counselor.
Q: How do you feel about where we are as a society?
A: From my social location, being a black woman, grandmother, great grandmother, it pains me that we are still judged by the color of our skin and not the content of our character. I feel ill in my heart and my soul that the perpetuation of racism, discrimination and oppression continues to raise its ugly head. I feel unsettled that the eyes, ears and minds of so many remain closed to the reality of covert and overt institutional, environmental, spatial and individual racism. I feel disgusted that the concept of equitable rights for all humanity has been redacted to mean my life does not matter because you do not recognize the equities of oppression. I feel afraid for my husband, children, grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and all folks who are de-humanized because of the color of their skin. I am unnerved every time my phone rings after midnight. I wonder if I will hear a faint voice on the other end of the phone saying, “I can’t breathe.” And yet, I feel emboldened, to actively stand on the front line of the transformational work that needs to be done.
Q: The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran a column saying,“official statements about anti-black racism and police brutality are especially important at this moment, because those of us on the side of a humane, just and democratic society are losing the messaging war.” Millersville did put out a statement, but was that enough?
A: The fact that Millersville University put a statement out speaks to the continuous two-way communication relationship – the Millersville community listened and acted. However, it rips me apart that we’re darned if we do and darned if we don’t in regard to making statements. Social media is our informational portal for life, but when we speak as a university, we need to have the lawyers approve some of our statements and we have to acknowledge the First Amendment—freedom of speech. How do you digest all of that and say enough?
Q: What happens next at Millersville?
A: Millersville has already been in the business of offering programming to augment experiences in diversity, equity and inclusion. We need to apply the principles of our EPPIIC values to our strategic plan and everything we do. Now, we are laying the groundwork to move us forward and to reshape the narrative.
I’m looking at bringing concepts from a “Figured World” to Millersville. A figured world is a socially produced and culturally constructed ‘realm of interpretation in which a particular set of characters and actors are recognized, significance is assigned to certain acts, and particular outcomes are valued over others'” (Bartlett and Holland 12).
We have great faculty and staff who are working hard to create an inclusive community by educating to make change. Deep in my heart I do believe that we shall overcome SOMEDAY … TODAY is our SOMEDAY to do the heart work and the head work.
Q: A rallying cry on social media has been to list resources. What resources do you have for us?
A: I’ve bombarded my website with resources and have been pushing out live streams of good events and educational materials. We have our MU Inclusive Community Report Form to fill out, and we have information on the University’s website here and here.
Also, I’m developing a series of five minute vignettes of diversity and inclusion, “The Diversity and Inclusion EPPIIC Experiences.” This is an effort to take five minutes to watch a video, or create a video, or read an article from a faculty or staff or student from Millersville that highlights a minimum of one of our EPPIIC values. The contributions from students, staff and faculty will be featured on the Office of Diversity and Social Justice for a week. The criteria is that the submitted material highlights the benefit of the selected EPPIIC value(s), it identifies an expected learning outcome. It will be an opportunity to talk about what we are already doing, what we all need to be doing, and how we perceive what we must deconstruct to inclusively reconstruct. It will open the door to have a conversation on what we truly need to have.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish at Millersville?
A: Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” We need to plant the seeds, water the seeds and supply nutrients so the seeds of diversity, equity, and inclusion for social justice, reign paramount. It’s the principle of action and reflection. We need to be active and reflective at the same time. There is no one answer. Our overarching answer to what we hope to accomplish is to educate for transformation and the outcomes will be as diverse as our population.
Q: How do we get to a better place as a society?
A: First,we have to start with speaking truth to empower. We’re going to have to get stinky and pull back the layers of the onion that are impregnated with untruths. It’s going to get on our hands and smell. The aroma is going to impact our way of thinking. It’s going to make your eyes burn. We have to get uncomfortable and peel back the layers of the onion skin. We have to look at things differently, and when you recognize the stench of the stink, that strong scent, then we have to address it. It becomes a matter of dealing with the core. We must realize that our social location provides the lens, will determines how you make meaning of things. That’s where our social development and character development and world view comes from – our social location. We need to be deliberate and authentic about our social location and move forward from there.
Q: Universities across the nation, including at Millersville, have had incoming students make racist posts on social media. What can be done about this?
A: We have to take everything into perspective through the lens of the Student Code of Conduct, Freedom of Speech, and we need to be as educative as we can. I believe working with our students and groups on campus and contiguous to campus will have the best results in addressing the nuances of social media.
Q: There have been other murders of black men. Why did George Floyd become such a catalyst?
A: Look at the overall climate in the U.S. People are tired. People are mad. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. This moment has called up the multiple moments of suffering inflected upon indigenous, black and brown people who have been killed and died seemingly because of who they are. George Floyd’s murder was the catalyst for more than a moment. This moment has become a movement because through the national and international news media, human beings witnessed the murder of an unarmed man who pleaded for his life. It has been said that when George Floyd called out for his mother every mother in the world, no matter the color of their skin, was beckoned to the pain of a mother losing a son. This was indeed an element that fueled the catalyst.
For me, [this incident brought up] the collective recollection of my ancestors being involuntary taken to a strange land, enslaved, beaten, killed and the continuous enslavement after the emancipation proclamation e.g. Jim Crow laws, inferior housing, low performing educational centers, unequal sentencing for crimes, the ongoing killing of black and brown people with no consequences on and on and on and on. The pot has reached its boiling point, the kettle whistle is blowing. Another element that I see is outcry of multiple voices, multiple races, multiple social locations. In our debriefing session on the livestream presentation of “Black Lives And Our Collective Future,” Dean George Drake put it this way, “We ALL have to stand side by side and put our shoulders to the rock of injustice and collectively push up what seems like an insurmountable mountain together.” That is the reaction that is occurring all around the world.
Understand that a shift is going to happen. I think this moment /collective movement in time speaks to it. We have moral and spiritual decay, the closing of the American mind and intellectual decay. We want to be comfortable. We don’t want to ask the tough questions.
When I was little, I climbed onto a roof to retrieve a ball and fell off into a little pile of stones. I was scared. I was bleeding and it was very painful. My mom, who is a nurse, had to pull the rocks out and pour medicine on it. It hurt. It burned. She wrapped the open wound with a medicated bandage. At the set time my mom removed the bandage and the open wounds were healed. Tiny scars still exist and when I see them, I am reminded of the pain and the process of healing. I liken my leg pain to the fear, the pain, the uncomfortableness, the process of healing we must go through as a nation. We, as a nation, have painful stones and rocks of injustice festering, infected and hemorrhaging. One cannot doubt that this may be scary. This work is hard. This work is painful. This work is heavy but this work has to be done so healing can come.
Q: If I see someone or hear something that bothers me from a standpoint of it not being culturally diverse or inclusive, what can I do?
Q: How do you cope with what’s going on in the world?
A: I listen, I pray, I contribute from my pockets and social location to eradicate the injustice. I educate and remain open to being educated. I gain strength in singing my way through it. That’s how I got through things in the past when I was subjected to the ugliness of injustice. Just like my ancestors who were enslaved. I create my own narrative. A song I sing is “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” Think of the narrative of that – being snatched from your mother and sold – yet our ancestors found hope in the fact that feeling like a motherless child was peppered with creating coping skills to survive. And I sing, “This Little Light of Mine.” Singing with power and convention that my narrative will be signed, sealed and delivered by me. To get from pain and suffering to the healing process, we have to tell authentic truths first. Then we can heal. There are some pockets that are ready to heal and we have to keep them encouraged.
Q: How do you feel about police?
A: Just like in society, they are a reflection of human beings—some are good, some are bad. My brother was a cop in Philadelphia for 33 years. He saw racism inside the department and outside the department.
We all need to listen. We don’t know the answers without first listening.
Q: Any last words for us?
A: I wish I didn’t have to do this work. I wish I didn’t have to have this job. But as the world turns, there is a continuous, ongoing need for the work. And for me it is not a job, it is a calling. I want to end the nightmare and experience the reality that my son and my daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be able to sing free at last, free at last thank God Almighty we are free at last … and it is the TRUTH!
Have something to report?