College of Charleston Race and Social Justice Initiative

Posted on February 6, 2018

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your attendance of “The First 365: Analyzing the First Year of the Trump Administration” featuring MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid at the College of Charleston’s Sottile Theatre. We are proud and honored to serve as conduits for positive change through the College of Charleston’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI). This Initiative is funded solely through the generosity of supporters like you.

RSJI promotes public awareness, dialogue, and long-term systemic change for race and social justice issues in Charleston and the Lowcountry through a collaborative effort led by the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, Addlestone Library, and the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative (LDHI). Our programming and outreach are establishing Charleston as a nexus of history, culture, and public engagement with race and social justice issues.

Please join us in this movement by making a tax-deductible contribution or contacting Halley Cella Erickson at or (843) 953-6526 to get more involved.

In solidarity,

Patricia Williams-Lessane, Ph.D.             
Coprincipal, Race and Social Justice Initiative
Director, Avery Research Center for
African American History and Culture

John White, Ph.D.
Coprincipal Race and Social Justice Initiative
Dean, College of Charleston Libraries

The First 365: Analyzing the First Year of the Trump Administration featuring MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid

Posted on January 16, 2018

The Race and Social Justice Initiative is proud to present “The First 365: Analyzing the First Year of the Trump Administration” moderated by MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid on February 1st, 2018. This discussion will be a multidisciplinary look into the first year of the Trump Administration featuring distinguished faculty members from the College of Charleston.

This event is proudly Co-Sponsored by the College of Charleston’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) funded by Google, the College of Charleston Division of Marketing and Communications, the College of Charleston Department of Communication, the College of Charleston Department of Political Science, the Avery Institute of Afro-American History and Culture, and the Tri-County Women’s Project.




Dr. Anthony Greene—African American Studies/Sociology





Dr. Anthony D. Greene is an Assistant Professor with the African American Studies program and the Department of Sociology at the College of Charleston. He specializes in race-ethnic relations and cultural and ethnic identity. Dr. Greene received his B.A. in Sociology and African American Studies and his MA in Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in Charlotte, NC. He earned his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Miami in 2008.

Dr. Patricia Williams Lessane—African American Studies/Anthropology





Dr. Williams Lessane is a cultural anthropologist whose focus areas include Pan African religious identity, Black feminist theory, and representations of Black life in popular culture. She earned a BA in English from Fisk University, a MALS from Dartmouth College, and a PhD in Anthropology from University of Illinois at Chicago. Before joining The College of Charleston, she was a faculty member at Roosevelt University, and a consultant for The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Dr. Michael Lee—Communications






Michael J. Lee teaches and researches in the areas of rhetoric and political communication at the College of Charleston. Mike holds a Ph.D. (Communication) from the University of Minnesota as well as M.A. (Communication) and B.A. (Political Science) degrees from the University of Georgia. His book, Creating Conservatism: Postwar Words that Made an American Movement (2014) earned four national book awards in the field. Additionally, Mike has several award-winning conference papers in his research areas. His essays have been published in such journals as the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Feminist Media Studies, and the Journal of Applied Communication Research. Mike has also given frequent media interviews on a number of political topics.

Dr. Matthew Cressler—Religion







Matthew Cressler was born in Connecticut, grew up in Alabama, went to school in New York, Boston, and Chicago, and considers himself an East-Coast itinerant. He teaches courses on African American religion; Black nationalism; religion, race, and politics; religion in America; and theory and method in the study of religion.

Dr. Latasha Chaffin—Political Science





LaTasha Chaffin joined the Department of Political Science in August 2013. Her teaching and research interests are in the field of American Politics with a particular emphasis on examining public policy and bureaucratic outcomes and their impacts on diverse and vulnerable populations. Her research interests extend to U.S. and comparative labor, economic, social welfare and state and local politics and policy. She offers courses in the undergraduate and graduate programs on American Government, Public Administration, American Public Policy, Labor and Economic Policy, U.S. State and Local Politics and Human Resource Management.

Chaffin earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from Western Michigan University. She also holds an M.A. in Political Science from Western Michigan University, a M.P.A. in Public Administration from Grand Valley State University and a B.B.A. in Business Administration from Grand Valley State University. Her dissertation research entitled “The War Against Joblessness: U.S. Intervention in State Labor Markets in Response to Economic Recessions,” examines the intervention of U.S. and state governments into the labor market during times of economic recession through the expansion of Social Security, unemployment insurance and training programs from 1990 to 2010.

This event is free and open to the public, however, Eventbrite registration is required.


Joy Reid is the host of AM JOY on MSNBC as well as a national correspondent appearing regularly on primetime programs including Hardball with Chris Matthews and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. She was previously the host of The Reid Report from 2014-2015, a daily program that offered Reid’s distinctive analysis and insight on the day’s news.

Joy Reid is also the author of the book Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons and the Racial Divide (William Morrow/Harper Collins 2015) and co-author with E.J. Dionne Jr., of We Are The Change We Seek: the Speeches of Barack Obama (Bloomsbury, 2017). Reid is also a contributing author for The Daily Beast.

Before that, Reid was the Managing Editor of, a daily online news and opinion platform devoted to delivering stories and perspectives that reflect and affect African-American audiences. Reid joined with experience as a freelance columnist for The Miami Herald and as editor of the political blog The Reid Report. She is a former talk radio producer and host for Radio One, and previously served as an online news editor for the NBC affiliate WTVJ in Miramar, FL.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Reid served as the Florida deputy communications director for the 527 “America Coming Together” initiative and was a press aide in the final stretch of President Barack Obama’s Florida campaign in 2008. Joy’s columns and articles have appeared in The New York Times, the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, South Florida Times and She is currently producing a documentary, The Fight Years – which takes a look at the sport of boxing during the 1950s and 1960s in Miami.

Reid graduated from Harvard University in 1991 with a concentration in film and is a 2003 Knight Center for Specialized Journalism fellow. She currently resides in Brooklyn with her husband and family.

Early arrival is suggested. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and there will be a security check prior to entrance. Please refrain from bringing any large bags or signs. For more information please contact the Race and Social Justice Initiative Coordinator Daron Lee Calhoun, II at

Statement from the College of Charleston’s Black Student Union

Posted on October 30, 2017


To Whom It May Concern:

As students of the College of Charleston, we aim to be in an environment that is conducive to learning because it is safe, engaging, diverse, healthy, and secure. As of right now, many students of color and others do not feel this way due to the continuous acts of prejudice, violence, and white supremacy on our campus, as well as in the Charleston community. Each year we are reminded of white supremacy and violence here at The College. A few of these acts include the racially charged shooting of nine innocent members of Mother Emanuel AME Church, a supporter of the Confederate Flag being the face of The College, continual displays of Confederate flags around campus, and being survivors of racially motivated hate speech and actions. We desire to feel safe and welcome in every realm, but unfortunately, that has not been the case.

As we all know, costumes are a tradition of Halloween. There are many costume ideas such as animals or cartoon characters. Although this may seem obvious, it has come to our attention that there are students at The College who do not understand this concept and have rather created costumes that mock dead Black bodies and Black culture all while using racial slurs. Sam Weinick and Gianna Trombetta are responsible for these actions. Photos are attached below for reference.

Students are seen wearing orange jumpsuits assumed to represent those in jail. Sam Weinick is shown wearing the name “Freddie Gray” on his back with the caption, “Ur going to jail tonight,” which was posted onto Snapchat by Gianna Trombetta (her username appears in the left-hand corner). There is a subsequent photo with a student who has not been identified yet, but this student is pictured with “Nigger” written on his back. Not only is this behavior disrespectful and demeaning to Black students here at The College, but it is also dehumanizing and mocks the Americans who are victims of police brutality and those who are grieving the lives lost due to the blatant lack of respect towards Black bodies.

If you do not know, on April 19, 2015, 25-year-old, Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr. became a deceased victim of police brutality. On April 12, 2015, Mr. Gray was detained by Baltimore Police Department and transported in a police van. Unfortunately, Mr. Gray never made it to the police department. Instead, he was transported to a trauma center where they attempted to treat him for spinal cord injuries that he sustained while in custody. Six officers were linked to the incident and suspended without pay. His death was ruled a homicide. The six officers were indicted on various charges to include second-degree murder. None of the officers were found guilty on their charges as some charges were dropped. The death of Mr. Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr. was detrimental and causes emotional distress amongst the Black communities and those who understand the outcomes of continuous acts of police brutality in America.

As students of the College of Charleston, we come to you in solidarity to ask that the students involved in this incident be reprimanded through indefinite expulsion. These students actions negatively reflect The College amongst the many other negatives it causes for students who attend and pay tuition. More than 500 Americans have lost their lives to police brutality this year alone. The actions taken by these students are a mockery of these lives and those who are grieving. The death of Mr. Gray is similar to the death of a loved one. Many of us feel this way and believe that the actions of these students is immoral and must be taken seriously. These are unacceptable behaviors that should not be tolerated. In these times, the disrespectful actions committed by these students cannot merely occur out of sheer ignorance. They occur because some people have a genuine disrespect for Black people and feel that Black culture is an open market of various elements to pick from and discard after use. Feeling safe is not being subjected to being viewed as objects and costumes that can be used to ridicule already marginalized communities.

We, as a student body, are concerned about the values The College of Charleston upholds. We acknowledge that there is a need for change in these values. We are seeking dignified actions against acts of white supremacy, as they are necessary for all to understand that appropriate actions that should be taken in these very serious matters such as this. This is not a matter of agreement or disagreement on a controversial topic, but rather one of values, morals, respect, and dignity. These actions should not be seen as conducive to the values that the College of Charleston aims to uphold and therefore should not be defended, nor allowed and subsequently reprimanded.

As well, additional action has been taken up on this matter to include the notification of distinguished news outlets.


Bria Dantzler, Founder and Senior Director
Luminescent, Community Outreach Organization

La’Nasa Clarkson, President
Black Student Union
Avery Research Center for African American History Culture

Tia Dye, Vice President
Black Student Union


Dear White People, Now That You Understand Your Privilege…

Posted on October 17, 2017

For the longest time people of color have been trying to get white people to realize that they have white privilege; and just recently, I’ve noticed more white people have accepted the fact that they do have it. However, the most exhausting and frustrating part about white people realizing that they have this privilege is their constant questioning of how do they use their privilege to dismantle white supremacy.

I find it puzzling when white people ask people of color how they should use their white privilege, as if it’s something new or different to them. People of color are not born with same societal privileges that white people are. White people are born into a system that assumes their superiority over those who aren’t considered White. White privilege allows white people to perform everyday tasks like shopping, working, and conversing with others, without having their social, political, or economic status and experiences questioned or challenged.

A few weeks back, College of Charleston’s Black Student Union held an event on white supremacy and topics surrounding white nationalism. I was surprised by the number of people that attended the event. And as white students began standing up and announcing they understood their white privilege to a crowd of emotional people of color, I couldn’t help but grow annoyed. Yes, I think it’s a great thing that white people are finally understanding that they have white privilege. It only took how many years? For me, it’s no longer enough for white people to acknowledge their white privilege. White people: Now that you understand this privilege, what are you doing with it?

I’m tired of having these same conversations about how white people should use their white privilege to combat white supremacy. There is no manual on how that should be done.

However, a good way to start would be having those conversations about race with racist family members at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Another way is to stop standing back and watching while the rights of people of color are denied and stolen.

And to the white people who actually understand their privilege and are using it to dismantle white supremacy and systems of oppression, could you teach other white people?

I hate to be cliché, but actions do speak a whole much louder than words.

Race and Social Justice Initiative Welcomes Visiting Scholar

The College of Charleston’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) recently welcomed its first visiting scholar, Lisa Brock.

A Cincinnati native, Brock joins the College community from Kalamazoo College, where she is the founding academic director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.
lisa brock

On the heels of her recent welcome reception at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, Brock spoke with The College Today about her current scholarship and plans for her stay, which lasts through November 2017.

“Primarily, I am here to do research for my upcoming book on Charleston’s urban black ‘port’ culture during the epoch of enslavement. For enslaved captives disembarking in the U.S., Charleston is the single most important port,” she says, noting that she’s doing much of her research in the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and Addlestone Library’s Special Collections.

Brock’s visiting position is supported by RSJI, a Google-funded collaboration formed in response to the shooting death of Walter Scott by a police officer in April 2015 and the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church two months later.

A rebel all her life, Brock’s activism began in her teens, fighting for the rights of young women and African Americans. Throughout her college years in Washington, D.C. and Chicago she battled against police violence and became a national leader in the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Having cut her teeth as an advocate and activist long before the emergence of Facebook, Brock believes social media has both helped and hindered the pursuit of social justice.

“When I began we had mimeo machines, flyers, and press conferences to get our issues out. Nowadays, the quick pace of news output and consumption is daunting. Frames can change very quickly. Sometimes it feels like the game ‘Telephone’,” she says. “For instance, Colin Kaepernick took a knee like Dr. King and others during the Civil Rights Movement to highlight the high number of police killings of unarmed Black Americans, for which there is no punishment, accountability or conviction of the police who do this. Now everyone is talking about the national anthem, the flag and the NFL.”

At the same time, social media has also served to expand democracy in ways that should be appreciated, she says. “Today, more eyes and voices are heard from and seen. It has captured the imagination of billions all over the world. So, there is both good and bad.”

Brock’s says she is honored to take part in RSJI’s efforts to promote awareness of the history and ongoing struggles of racial injustice in Charleston and throughout the U.S.

“I have always said that what oppressed people expect from those who have benefited from privilege is not ‘politically correct’ perfection but simple honesty,” she says. “Denial and deflection perpetuate the problem and is very frustrating. That is what inspires me, that the College is working for a future where we can all be free from the shackles of the past.”

Feature photo by Reese Moore.
Written By. Vincent Fraley
Article originally posted at

College of Charleston Race and Social Justice Initiative Panel Discussion on “13th”

Posted on September 22, 2017

Thank you to everyone who came out on September 17, 2017, as the College of Charleston’s Race and Social Justice Initiative, the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, and the South Carolina League of Women Voters presented a free screening of Ava DuVernay’s award-winning documentary 13th.

Following the screening, a panel featuring Dr. Lisa Brock, the Race and Social Justice Initiative Fall 2017 Scholar in Residence and Academic Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, Dr. Stacey Patton, author of the Charleston County Racial Disparities Report and professor of global journalism and communications at Morgan State University, and Susan K. Dunn, the legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina, discussed the state of social justice, advocacy, and the criminal justice system in the Lowcountry and beyond. Big thanks to David Rothmund, the Race and Social Justice Initiative Graduate Assistant for live streaming the event. Watch, share, and be informed by the great perspectives presented!

13th Screening Panelist

Posted on September 14, 2017

Dr. Stacey Patton

Dr. Stacey Patton is an adoptee, child abuse survivor, and former foster youth turned award-winning author, journalist and child advocate. Her reporting on issues of child welfare, race relations, and higher education has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Al Jazeera, BBC News,, The Chronicle of Higher Education,, and Dame Magazine. She has made appearances on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, FOX News, CBS, and Democracy Now. As a nationally-recognized child advocate, Dr. Patton travels the country delivering keynotes and professional trainings focused on combating racial disparities in child abuse cases, criminal prosecutions for child abuse, foster care placements, the over prescribing of psychotropic medications to children of color in foster care, the school- and foster care-to-prison pipelines, corporal punishment in public schools, diversion and restorative justice programs. She works as an intermediary between social service and law enforcement agencies seeking to improve services to communities of color. Dr. Patton attended Johns Hopkins University and New York University where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She earned her Ph.D. in African American history from Rutgers University.

13th Screening Panelist


Susan K. Dunn, a member of the SC Bar since 1977, has been the legal director for the ACLU of South Carolina since 2009.  Prior to joining the ACLU, Dunn was in private practice in Charleston with extensive practice in both the family court and the court of common pleas. She graduated from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill, School of Law.  Dunn litigated Ferguson v. City of Charleston, a ground-breaking 4th amendment case that was argued successfully before the U. S. Supreme Court and the 4th Circuit. Dunn was also counsel in Anderson v. Chesterfield County School District, a case which resulted in a consent order which assures separation of church and state in public schools.  On behalf of the ACLU of SC, Dunn appeared as an amicus in the Turner case which raised the issue of right to counsel in child support contempt actions.  In 1997, SC Women Lawyers Association awarded her the Bissell Award, given annually to recognize a person who paved the way to success for women attorneys in South Carolina.  Dunn is the proud mother of Anna Hoffius, a pediatrician in North Charleston, and Jacob Hoffius, a teacher at an international school in San Jose, Costa Rica.

13th Screening Panelists

SUNDAY! The College of Charleston’s Race and Social Justice Initiative, the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, and the South Carolina League of Women Voters are pleased to present a free screening of Ava DuVernay’s award winning documentary 13th. We are honored to host panelists Lisa Brock, Susan Dunn and Stacey Patton, who will participate in a panel discussion following the film.

Lisa Brock

Lisa Brock (aka Doc Brock) is the Academic Director of the Arcus Center of Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, where she has worked to infuse social justice into Liberal Arts Education. Her writings on Africa and the African Diaspora have appeared in dozens of academic journals, political outlets, book chapters and the groundbreaking book, Between Race and Empire: African-Americans and Cubans Before the Cuban Revolution.  Lisa is currently Co-Chair of the Board Trustees of the Davis Putter Scholarship Fund and senior editor of Praxis Center, an online blog and resource center for scholars, activists and artists. A rebel all her life, Lisa fought for girls’ rights and Black rights while growing up in her native Cincinnati, Ohio area and against police violence and judicial misconduct in Washington D.C. while an undergraduate. She became a leader in the anti-apartheid movement while in graduate school in Chicago and lived in Mozambique as a Fulbright Scholar where she critically merged her academic interest with southern African liberation struggles. She worked to found the Chicago Anti-Apartheid Movement Collection at Columbia College Chicago (CCC) and to endow an international travel scholarship for students involved in African-American Studies. She has also led study abroad programs for faculty, students and activist to South Africa and Cuba. As an historian and justice leader, Lisa is an internationalist who views history as a way to enter contemporary discussions about race, class, gender, and global inequalities. Lisa attended Oberlin College and earned her B.A. from Howard University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in African History from Northwestern University.

Past the Bricks

Posted on September 6, 2017


The herringbone brick walkways that pave the College of Charleston’s campus make walking nearly impossible without falling victim to the Charleston shuffle.Sadly, the bricks that pave Downtown Charleston are the only part of the city that most students at College of Charleston will ever see. Students comfortability and willful ignorance allow them to serve as tourists of The College because many of them will never get out and explore life just beyond these bricks.


“Charleston shuffle” (v). the art of tripping over old bricks and cobblestone.


I have lived in Charleston for the past three years and I can’t say that I’ve seen much of the city. It wasn’t until my internship supervisor, Daron, asked if I have ever been to the “East Side” of the city that realized how detached I was from the broader Charleston community. Throughout these three years, I have remained in the downtown area without really exploring anywhere past the Battery or the Waterfront.

“East Side” please view map of Charleston communities here.

Quite like students, Charleston’s tourists only see one part of the city. They only see where the money is spent, and they don’t tend to steer away from the cobblestone and bricks located near Chalmers Street, and in the French Quarter. Once upon a time much of Charleston was paved dirt roads that became very muddy when it rained or the tides were high.  Cobblestones first came into Charleston during the 17th century because ships used them as ballast. Soon after the colonists realized that they could use these cobblestones for much more than ballast. They then used cobblestone to pave some of the first hard-surfaced streets.

Many students and tourists will never realize that there is so much more to Charleston if they just travel past the bricks. Beyond the bricks people are experiencing the negative side of racial inequalities regarding employment, housing, and education.

The launching of the Race and Social Justice Initiative Charleston County Racial Disparity Report will bring light to the inequalities that plague communities of color. Hopefully, this will force lawmakers to do something about these racial inequalities.

In the upcoming week, I’m excited to travel to the places highlighted within the Disparities Report that way, I can grasp a better understanding on the vast difference of Downtown Charleston and the communities that are hardest hit by inequalities.