George Mason University
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George Mason University

Carter School set to build strong foundation for Mason president’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force

September 4, 2020   /   by Audrey Williams

On a wide green lawn on the Fairfax Campus of George Mason University, a student speaks into a microphone while a crowd of students and communitiy members wearing masks listens.

Mason community marches on campus to peacefully protest on the Fairfax campus to voice their support for Black Lives Matter. (Photo by: Ron Aira/Creative Services/ George Mason University)

When George Mason University President Gregory Washington announced that he would establish an Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force, he named the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution as playing a central role in building a strong foundation for anti-racism work at the university.

“[The Carter School is] one of the nation’s few schools dedicated to social justice and peace, and one of the very best,” President Washington wrote in his July announcement on the task force’s formation.

Now that the Fall 2020 semester has begun, the task force is ready to begin its work, and a number of Carter School community members will be playing a role in setting a national model for what it means to create a truly inclusive campus rooted in an anti-racist approach to teaching, scholarship, research, and practice.

The task force’s central membership of 32 Mason-based experts, scholars, students, and practitioners includes two Carter School faculty members, Charles L. Chavis, Jr. and Tehama Lopez Bunyasi.

Chavis is an assistant professor of conflict resolution and history at the school, where he is the founding director of the John Mitchell, Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Race. His scholarship and practice focus on “salvaging” the “human story” of marginalized communities through narrative change and critical historiography.

Read the Mitchell Program’s “Letter to White America” in recognition of the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Lopez Bunyasi is an assistant professor of conflict analysis and resolution at the Carter School, where her work is focused on race, racism, and anti-racism in the United States. Her co-authored book with Candis Watts Smith, Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter (New York University Press, 2019), has gained national attention, particularly over the past summer, and was written to help people of all backgrounds open up constructive conversations about race and racism in the United States.

In addition to its core membership, the task force will involve more than 100 people from across Mason’s colleges, schools, and units in carrying out anti-racism and inclusion work across six committees: 1) Training & Development; 2) Campus & Community Engagement; 3) University Policies & Practices; 4) Curriculum & Pedagogy; 5) Student Voice; and 6) Research.

Chavis will serve as a co-chair for the Training & Development Committee, while Lopez Bunyasi will serve as a co-chair for the Curriculum & Pedagogy Committee.

The committees will draw on the expertise of a number of Carter School community members, including Sheherazade Jafari (Director of the Point of View International Retreat and Research Center), Susan Hirsch (Vernon M. and Minnie I. Lynch Chair of Conflict Analysis and Resolution), Al Fuertes (PhD ‘07 and affiliated faculty member), Derek Sweetman (PhD ‘20), and Kat Trejo (bachelor’s student).

Read the complete membership list of the Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force and its affiliated committees.

The contributions of the Carter School’s community to the task force reflect its commitment not just to educating peacebuilders and conflict resolution specialists in theories of peace and social justice but also to putting those principles into practice by playing a role in dismantling structural racism and inequality in its own classrooms and hallways.

“Condemnation alone will not do the work that is needed to dismantle systems of racial injustice,” said Carter School dean Alpaslan Özerdem in the school’s May statement against white supremacy. “It is our firm commitment as a School to undertake an ethos of research, teaching, and practice that prioritizes anti-racism and opposes oppression. That means continually engaging in reflective scholarship and practice that contemplates our own place in this system while lifting up the efforts of our community members working to dismantle white supremacy.”

The school’s faculty, students, and alumni are already engaged in scholarship, research, and practice that interrogates the role of white supremacy and systemic racism—and anti-Black racism, in particular—not just across society as a whole but in the field of peace and conflict studies.

One of the Carter School’s initiatives includes its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, which has been working since 2017 to support the school in being attentive and responsive to the various needs and experiences of students from all backgrounds, including those from minoritized and marginalized communities.

“One thing is for sure, DEI work is meaningless if we do not center an anti-racist approach,” said Jafari and Pushpa Iyer (PhD '07), who are co-chairs of the DEI Committee, in a July story for Carter School News.

The Carter School and George Mason University are doing this work in response to and in conversation with the widespread, interracial protest movement in support of Black Lives Matter, which throughout summer 2020 has laid bare once again the enduring nature of white supremacy and anti-Black racism in the United States.

“The fissures of inequality are on full display,” said Lopez Bunyasi in a recent interview with George Mason News. “We are amidst a great reckoning with who we are in this country and who we want to become.”

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