Two Maryland universities will work to combat racism, economic division and other social ills on its campuses that could spread throughout Prince George’s County.
Bowie State University and the University of Maryland will form a Social Justice Alliance, named after Army Lt. Richard Collins III.
Collins, 23, was stabbed to death in May 2017 on the University of Maryland campus while visiting friends by a white student. Collins, posthumously promoted to first lieutenant by the Army, was to graduate the following week from Bowie State.
“I don’t believe there is enough information out there that raises awareness and what’s happening out there in our communities,” said Bowie State President Aminta H. Breaux. “These are issues that citizens across this country are facing each and every day.”
Announcement of the initiative Thursday, Oct. 1 coincided with the effective date of a Maryland hate crime statute named after Collins. A judge dismissed a hate crime charge against Sean Urbanski a day before he was convicted Dec. 18. 2019 by a state circuit court jury of first-degree murder.
Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy led the statewide effort to strengthen the statute.
The previous law forced prosecutors to prove a hate crime occurred as the sole motivating factor.
“My office has an interest in the students ensuring we are training new lawyers. Hopefully new prosecutors,” she said. “One day, maybe someone from this alliance will want to take over my position. I won’t be here forever.”
As part of the social justice program, both schools will host seminars each semester, infuse social justice in the education curriculum and organize an annual symposium.
Bowie State will house a Social Justice Alliance “safe space” for faculty, staff and students to house conversations on social justice topics.
Although students are geared to lead discussions and certain projects at their respective schools, they will receive assistance from alliance coordinators Kimetta Hairston, associate professor of education at Bowie State, and Georgina Dodge, vice president for diversity and inclusion at Maryland.
The 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III Foundation will also be a part of the social justice program with its mission to promote civic engagement.
The foundation plans to award scholarships for ROTC students who attend the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities. A Bowie State ROTC cohort received the foundation’s first scholarship awards in December.
Both campuses located in northern Prince George’s hold some history in Maryland.
Bowie State remains the state’s oldest HBCU established in 1865. One of its recent achievements is a Center for Cyber Security and Emerging Technologies, which provides research in computer and cyber defense.
The University of Maryland serves as the state’s flagship institution with about 41,000 students (30,000 undergraduate students). Besides housing one of the top athletic programs in the Big Ten Conference, the school received a $31 million gift from alumnus Brendan Iribe for scholarships and a new computer science building.
However, the predominately white institution experienced some racial history when students and faculty found white supremacist fliers the same year of Collins’ death. Also in 2017, a noose was found inside a fraternity house.
University of Maryland President Darryl J. Pines, who became president in July, said students filled out a climate campus survey to gauge the feelings of students on campus. He also said the school updated its student code of conduct to address hate crimes and banned symbols of hate on campus buildings.
“It’s always a continuing endeavor to improve campus culture and climate,” Pines said. “We are now working very closely with Black student leaders on campus to address additional concerns. I think you will see a number of improvements in the next year…for every [person] on the campus.”
Pines said the school continues a plan to build a memorial on the campus in honor of Collins.
Rick and Dawn Collins, parents of the dead man, acknowledged both school presidents, Braveboy and students who helped the family.
“I just want to thank all of the wonderful people that walked with us along this journey,” Collins’ father said. “This has been an incredibly emotional and painful, but yet purposeful work. We’re hopeful and we’re eager to get this started and move this process forward.”