On Friday, Oct. 29, MSU held a ribbon cutting and open house event from 3:30-5 p.m. for the opening of the Charlye O. Farris Social Justice Resource Center. Located in Bea Wood 131 and under the direction of Cammie Dean, director of MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center, and now director of the SJRC. The purpose of the center is to serve as a hub of education and advocacy. The goal is to strive to build community connections around the issues of racial and social justice through activities encouraging reflection and dialogue.
“It was serendipitous in many ways; the MOSAIC cross cultural center team started a tradition this past year of having an innovation day at the end of every semester. It’s a day where we aren’t allowed to work on any current projects but instead do research and map out ideas we may have to bring to the team, department and campus. One of the things that I had seen from other campuses that were working really well with equity and inclusion were social justice resource centers. By the end of the day the types of programming and services would benefit our community and campus ” Dean said.
In total, there are 802 civil rights and advocacy organizations in Texas. Dean says around the same time, MOSAIC was planning on moving locations from their previous location to now inside the Clark Student Center. The team noticed there would be a vacancy in that space and wondered what could be of great use.
“So you have MOSAIC moving locations and then the team interested in incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion task force processes that elevate and amplify voices that haven’t been as strongly represented on our campus as in previous years. I wanted to name things after people of color. All of these things happened in a span of three weeks and I pitched the idea of having a social justice resource center, and that was that,” Dean said.
Throughout Dean’s time here, there’s always been one person she’s admired. That person is Charlye O. Farris. Farris, who was the first African-American female in Texas to practice law.
“She was the first Black lawyer in the county of Wichita, first Black judge in the south after reconstruction, she was someone who was elegant, funny, impressive; she was just a really wonderful person to be around and to know and served on our Board of Regents prior to her death,” Dean said.
Dean said Charlye seemed to be the right person at the right time to have something named after them here at MSU. Keith Lamb, vice president of student affairs had asked what could be named after a person of color and that’s when Dean handed him her eight-page proposal.
“It was just really good timing that had all worked in everyone’s favor. The big thing about the justice center is it is externally focused. What we will do with programming, training opportunities, or the resources that we have available in the reading room, is indirectly going to benefit MSU but directly engage the Wichita Falls and surrounding communities,” Dean said.
The aims of the SJRC are: their mission, their values at MSU Texas, their faculty and staff composition and academics and co-curricular for the students. Dean explains that the fifth goal is aimed toward the community. Dean says being in a community that is welcoming and open is important and will only support our on-campus efforts.
“The biggest reason to have a community focused goal is to acknowledge that we can work on our campus climate, but if folks of color are not comfortable when they step off campus, that may be a reason why we are not retaining or having them fully engage with us, especially when we think about recruiting more faculty and staff of color, as well as lgbtq+, quality of life matters. We need partners in the community,” Dean said.
Though the resource center celebrated it’s opening on Oct. 29, the doors officially opened Sept 1. Dean said that some of O. Farris’s family was able to be there.
“What I am most proud of right now and most excited for is that the name Charlye O. Farris is being said a lot, it was wonderful when we had our ribbon cutting at the end of homecoming week and her son and best friend were there. Just to have people remember this important woman who had such an influence on this community, that’s really important to me. She is someone that we should not forget,” Dean said.