Otterbein Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Fellows Creating Open Dialogue About Race through Alumni Oral History Project

Posted Sep 20, 2021

In 2020, Otterbein was selected by the Association of American Colleges and Universities as one of 23 universities to host Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers across the United States. Otterbein was the first institution in Ohio to receive this recognition. 

Part of the work of a TRHT center involves looking inward towards your institution and experiences lived by the campus community. It was this imperative that spurred the work of Otterbein’s student TRHT Fellows. 

Four students began to work with faculty mentors to collect oral histories of alumni who are People of Color (POC). Beginning in the summer of 2021, after receiving training on interview skills and a set of questions, the students began to conduct phone or virtual video interviews. On average, students spoke with six or seven alumni. 

The calls were recorded to be transcribed and archived by the Courtright Memorial Library for future academic use.  

The Fellows’ project will continue into the 2021 semesters, a much-needed undertaking that deserves more time to develop said Professor Margaret Koehler, Department of English chair and faculty mentor. 

“This is exhilarating and important work. These topics haven’t been in the national focus which makes undertaking the institutional collection of these personal stories so early in our TRHT work that much more vital,” Koehler said. 

Looking honestly at Otterbein’s history helps the entire community move forward and begin the racial healing process, Koehler added.  

TRHT Fellow Hannah Brown ’22 sees this as a major step in the right direction for Otterbein. 

In her personal experience interviewing alumni, Brown has seen a vastly positive response of interviewees wanting to discuss their experiences before coming to campus, while they were enrolled, participation in student activities, and when interacting with the community of Westerville. 

“It was clear, at least to me, that the POC alumni wanted to participate in an open dialogue right from the start. They were ready and willing to share their experiences, even if they weren’t always positive,” Brown said. “It was necessary to further conversations about race and identity at our institution and what it means for future generations of students.” 

Otterbein’s TRHT Fellows have just begun to scratch the surface on racial equality on campus with this project. It might not be the most comfortable conversations to have, but they are necessary in moving the TRHT mission forward. 

“These stories need to be told so we can see where we’ve been and what we still need to do. I’m proud Otterbein is reaching out to voices that are not always heard,” Brown said.