Inspired By River Forest, Dominican Deepens Ties To Maywood

Wednesday, February 3, 2021 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Administrators at Dominican University in River Forest announced last month that they’re hoping to develop a spring immersion program in Maywood. The announcement was made at a National Day of Racial Healing virtual ceremony on Jan. 19.

“Ordinarily, the university offers students the opportunity to travel somewhere during spring break to do some service work and build relationships,” said Amy Omi, a university minister of liturgy and the arts at Dominican during the Jan. 19 event.

“This year, due to COVID, but also because we’re hoping to continue to do the work of bridge-building in Maywood, we’re staying closer to home,” she said.

John DeConstanza, the director of university ministry at Dominican, said the immersion experiences “are grounded in mutuality,” adding that students will be receiving more information on the program soon. He also welcomed any Maywood residents who might want to participate and/or offer ideas to contact the university.

The burgeoning immersion program is an extension of Dominican’s larger commitment to racial reconciliation, said Dominican President Donna Carroll during an interview on Feb. 2. That commitment, she said, has only hardened in the wake of recent events, particularly the murder of George Floyd last May and the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.

Since Floyd’s death, River Forest’s village board has passed two resolutions — one “affirming” the village’s “principles regarding the relationship between the community and law enforcement” and the other “supporting a community partnership with Dominican University to fight racial and social injustice using the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation framework,” according to language in those respective resolutions.

Dominican students walk the college’s campus in River Forest during a demonstration against racism held last year. | Provided 

The village board also passed a Twin Villages Covenant, which is designed to forge a closer relationship with Maywood, last summer.

“Entering into the partnership with Dominican University was an important and historic step toward building a positive culture and promoting and fostering healing in our community,” River Forest President Cathy Adduci said in a statement.

President Carroll said the resolutions “put some teeth” into the university and the village’s commitment to improving the experiences of Black and Brown students, and to promoting more racial awareness and understanding among residents in the village.

Sheila Radford-Hill, Dominican’s recently retired chief diversity officer, said on Feb. 3 that Dominican is one of about three dozen campuses across the country that the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) have designated Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Centers.

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Radford-Hill said that along with possible financial support, the AACU also offers participating institutions a range of professional development opportunities, among other resources.

“The people and institutions involved in the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation work convene regularly all over the country,” Radford-Hill said. “We share ideas; there are trainings and speakers. Dr. Gail Christopher, the founder of racial healing circles, makes regular appearances and helps us understand how to actually do the work of a racial healing circle. This is difficult work.”

Within the last year, the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation process has resulted in a variety of initiatives on and off campus. In addition to the National Day of Racial Healing, during which administrators honored student-activists and conducted racial healing circles based on the principles of the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation program, the university has also sponsored book discussions in Oak Park centered on “Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism and You,” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. The book is a version of Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning,” but adapted for young readers.

Carroll said the university is also exploring the possibility of partnering with River Forest to develop internship opportunities in the village “to really give students on-the-ground community organizing experience.”

On a higher level, Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation is “more than a program; it’s a movement,” said Radford-Hill, adding that the university’s partnership with the AACU has been critical since the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

On that Wednesday, she noted, Live Café owner Reesheda Graham-Washington, a Proviso West graduate, discovered a brick wrapped in a racist message.

“In the meantime, some people in River Forest who had Black Lives Matter signs on their lawns found their signs ripped up by some people who didn’t like that idea,” Radford-Hill said. “The people doing this work get pushback that is offensive and can be dangerous.”

Working coalitions, such as the one that has coalesced around Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, “helps us stay grounded, stay focused and feel supported as we move through this work,” Radford-Hill said.

President Carroll said the last few years, and particularly the last 12 months, have been clarifying.

“A few years ago, we were not nearly as comfortable, and we’re still not completely comfortable, with talking about an antiracist agenda and committing ourselves to really looking at our sense of whiteness, and looking at where can make changes so that the experiences of our students and faculty of color are more welcoming, more equitable and more engaging,” Carroll said.

“This is the moment for us to do this, it’s important for us to push this forward, and I think the village is looking to Dominican as a strength in that conversation.”

Maywood residents who interested in participating in the immersion program can contact Omi, who is the interim coordinator of the university’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation initiative, at: [email protected].

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