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Carson-Newman establishes team to assess community inclusion, commit to change

Gloria Walker, acting vice president of Student Services at Carson-Newman University, leads in the selection of members for a new Community Relations Task Team, which she will chair. Assisting in the team’s formation is Provost Jeremy Buckner, at center, and Matt Bryant Cheney, director of the Center for Community Engagement and co-chair of the University’s Diversity and Equity Committee.

(June 12, 2019) JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — Carson-Newman University is organizing a Community Relations Task Team to foster unity and awareness within the community and make specific recommendations for improvements that align with the University’s biblical faith and Christian identity.

The University seeks to identify and eradicate any policies, procedures or cultural norms that promote racial division; advance healing and reconciliation; and affirm that black lives matter.

Carson-Newman’s executive leadership, at the direction of President Charles A. Fowler, established the team on June 3 in direct response to the rallying cry for change following the senseless killing of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25.

“As a Christian institution, it is vital that we affirm that all people are image bearers of God, of equal value and precious in his sight,” said Fowler. “We denounce every form of racism, discrimination and bias as sin, and commit to eradicating these from our community. As a community of faith, this means heartfelt repentance, submission to the Gospel and pledging to change.”

Gloria Walker, former co-director of Student Success and now acting vice president for Student Services since May 1, is chairing the team. Walker led in the selection of members, which are primarily people of color. Provost Jeremy Buckner and Center for Community Engagement Director Matt Bryant Cheney, who also co-chairs the Carson-Newman Diversity and Equality Committee, worked alongside her to identify faculty, staff, students, alumni and community leaders to serve on the team.

The team aims to complete an initial assessment in time to address needed change prior to the start of the fall semester.

“Our students are coming back, and they need to know what they’re coming back to in August,” Walker said. “They need to know that they’re coming back to an administration and a faculty and staff who will support them.”

Walker said that she anticipates further actions by the team to include an expression of solidarity, events such as a community forum, and arranging training.

“We know that our black students are going to need support when they come back,” she said. “We also want to be able to A) educate ourselves so that we’re able to B) educate our students.”

The team’s goals extend beyond the University community, with the hope of their work promoting awareness in the broader community in direct reflection of the responsibility of those of Christian faith to lead the way in reconciliation.

“We want our students to know that we care,” Walker said. “This is not a campaign because I’m a black woman; this is a campaign because I love this University. I want our campus community and the community at large to see that we’re being proactive.

“Having black sons, this has hit home for me,” she added. “They’re adults, but I can’t imagine what Ahmaud Arbery’s mom felt. I can’t imagine what Breonna Taylor’s mom felt, because I have a daughter who’s Breonna Taylor’s age. I can’t imagine if that were Darrion, my oldest, who lost his life with a knee on his neck in the street like George Floyd.

“It is personal,” she concluded. “We cannot pretend that racism doesn’t exist. We were just reminded of it in light of the events of the past few months.”

Founded in 1851, Carson-Newman is a Christian liberal arts-based university affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. The University is located in Jefferson City, Tennessee, among the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and has over 2,700 students. Carson-Newman offers 50 undergraduate majors, as well as associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

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