One year later: Temple Center for Anti-Racism lacks visibility among students

Temple’s Center for Anti-Racism commemorated its first anniversary with a town hall on Nov. 16.

Despite being physically established for a year, students believe the Center for Anti-Racism lacks recognition and its initiatives are largely unknown. | JACK LARSON / THE TEMPLE NEWS

To celebrate the first anniversary of its physical location, Temple’s Center for Anti-Racism held a town hall on Nov. 16, delving into the Philadelphia District Attorney Office’s report that tackles issues of racial injustice within the criminal legal system. 

​​The Center for Anti-Racism, funded by $1.3 million from the Pennsylvania government and physically established in Mazur Hall in November 2022, garnered attention from local Philadelphia media outlets, becoming an example for universities, like Penn State, which doesn’t have a similar center. 

Despite being established for a year, students believe the Center lacks recognition and its initiatives are largely unknown. 

“We have an anti-racism center?” said Anai St. Hillaire, a junior genomic medicine major and president of Ramajay, Temple’s West Indian dance team. “I wish I could say I knew more about that because I’m really involved in Temple’s Black community, but I really didn’t know we had one.”

St. Hillaire suggests the Center can increase its visibility by hosting more events in its Mazur Hall space, but she isn’t the only student unaware of Temple’s Center for Anti-Racism. 

Deajah Johnson, a junior management information systems major and member of the Black Student Union, was also surprised to hear Temple has an anti-racism center. 

“I didn’t know that we had one here,” Johnson said. “It would definitely be beneficial if that was broadcasted more because I think that could be a good community resource for Temple students.” 

The Center opened in Fall 2022 after an expected completion date of Spring 2022. Apart from a town hall organized for its first anniversary, there has been little documented activity or updates since the Juneteenth events held during the summer. 

Molefi Kete Asante, professor and chair of the Africology and African American studies department who is on the Center’s advisory board, believes the tentative vision he proposed for the Center has not yet been met. 

“I think the missing thing is the serious intent to have conversation, a dialogue about the eradication of racial hierarchy and all forms of discrimination, whether it is antisemitism, Islamophobia,” Asante said. “All of these issues have to be discussed at the Center. The Center, to me, has to be a fundamental pioneer in the creation of opportunities for people to critique all forms of discrimination.” 

Construction of the Center for Anti-Racism began during Fall 2021 as part of a $1 million anti-racist initiative following growing demand for anti-racist education among students. Two open letters from the Department of Africology and African American Studies urged increased funding and academic and creative autonomy. 

Temple planned to give all students access to the Center, including students and faculty at local Philadelphia universities like Saint Joseph’s, La Salle, Thomas Jefferson, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania. 

Timothy Welbeck, an Africology and African American studies professor and director of the Center for Anti-Racism, believes the Center has met its goals in its first year of establishment, he said.

Asante appointed Welbeck, a Morehouse College alumnus, as director of the Center in August 2021.

“In the first year, our goal was to assemble a faculty advisory committee and to launch signature events to do active community engagement and set the stage for regular programming both on campus and within the community,” Welbeck said. “And I’m pleased to say that we were able to achieve each of those.” 

The Center launched a speaker series in January 2023 titled “Ideally Speaking,” where Ibram X. Kendi spoke on the next steps of combating racism, according to the university. 

“We’ve also done things with the District Attorney’s office and hosted some restorative justice events here at Temple,” Welbeck said. “And we get a number of educational opportunities for local, primary and secondary students, too.”

Students from Philadelphia High School for Girls and Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School were invited to the Center on Sept. 8, 2022 for early screenings of PBS documentaries featuring Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Students who attended were among the first to visit the Center.

However, Luca Paxton, project coordinator for Philly Children’s Movement, suggests the Center can improve on targeting racism within the Temple community itself. 

“One strategy we use at PCM are listening campaigns,” Paxton said. “The Center could meet with students and ask them what they need.”

Paxton believes racial justice work can often disregard the agency of those impacted, so centering internal community work while enabling community excitement could benefit the Center.

During its conception, the Center aimed to focus on researching structural and systemic racism and attempting to end racial hierarchy. 

As of December 2023, taking action at an administrative level is not within the reins of the Center, Welbeck said. 

“We are primarily externally focused in terms of the work that we do,” Welbeck said. “But we do actively engage where appropriate. There are various ways that our space, our community can be more equitable, and more inclusive. And sometimes that’s by partnering with the efforts of other people.”

The Center’s shortcomings should not fall onto Welbeck but rather on how the university prioritizes funding for the Center, Asante said. 

“I’m pretty sure that Dr. Welbeck and the Advisory Committee will have further progress next year, but it’s going to depend on the funding priorities of the university and encouraging private funders to fund activities,” Asante said.

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