PETERSBURG, Va. -- Virginia State University (VSU) will become the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to have a center dedicated to addressing the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color.
The Center, formally called Center for Policing Leadership and Social Justice, is believed to be the first of its kind at an HBCU and possibly nationwide, VSU said.
The goal is to provide a space focused on action, intellect and creativity that will help engage in collaborative research, training and program development surrounding social, political, economic and cultural issues that have historically impacted communities of color and law enforcement relations, according to VSU.
VSU sociology and criminal justice professor Dr. Zoe Spencer said that this really took off last year following the death of George Floyd which sparked racial justice movements across the country.
Last year, Spencer organized a group called the Policing Leadership Taskforce made up of regional police chiefs and sheriffs, community leaders and activists and VSU staff and students.
The work of the task force will continue to grow within the newly-established center, said VSU.
She said partnerships were formed with several local law enforcement agencies and community groups to have uncomfortable conversations about history and also develop ideas to keep the community and law enforcement safe today.
They also hope to challenge the perceptions of being at odds.
Spencer said that VSU is emerging as a leader on the issue and the idea goes beyond a physical building on campus.
"A lot of times when we say the center, people think of an actual building but we want to make VSU the center for policing, leadership and social justice and so that it's not just limited to a building but is inclusive of all the expertise, all of the different disciplines that can offer their expertise, their education, their training, their pedagogical approaches in order to collaborate on doing the work that is necessary," Spencer said.
There will be specialized trainers, educators and experts at the center for topics of criminal justice reform, policy on policing and race relations in America.
“For decades, we have seen our country crying out for change, but especially after the death of George Floyd in 2020. We knew it was our duty to try to ensure that something like that never happens again," said VSU President Makola M. Abdullah. “It continues now with our new Center for Policing Leadership and Social Justice. To our knowledge, this center is the first of its kind at an HBCU or perhaps nationwide, but thanks to our team of trailblazers here, hopefully, it will not be the last.”
"All we have to do is to look at the case of former Virginia State University student, Caron Nazario, to see that action remains necessary. We are merely answering that call," said Spencer.
"I am proud to be committed to such a groundbreaking, much-needed program,” said Jeffrey Faries, Chief of the Colonial Heights Police Department. “We as public safety leaders, across the country, must acknowledge that our profession has work to do in order to be a part of the solution."