Otterbein University Becomes Central Ohio Community Resource for Racial Healing

Posted Feb 19, 2020

As Ohio celebrates Black History Month, Otterbein University has been designated as a valuable community resource in starting conversations about race and social justice in central Ohio and changing the way community members think and talk about race-related issues.

Otterbein has been selected by the Association of American Colleges and Universities as one of 23 universities to host Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Centers across the United States. Otterbein is the first institution in Ohio to receive this recognition.

“If you know anything about Otterbein, you know that we are not afraid of doing the right thing before it’s popular,” said President John Comerford at the announcement of the new university initiative.

Otterbein leaders were joined by leaders from Westerville and Columbus for the announcement on Feb. 19, 2020. Some of the speakers included Cheryl Ward, director of emotional and student support services at Columbus City Schools, Pastor Vaughn Bell, board member for Westerville City Schools, and Elizabeth Brown, council member of the City of Columbus.

At the same announcement, Valerie Cumming, vice mayor of Westerville City Council, laid out some uncomfortable facts about the Westerville community. “If you are a person of color [in Westerville] your median household income is closer to $65,000 than $90,000,” said Cumming, “Your son or daughter is less likely to graduate from high school or receive a bachelor’s degree. The poverty rate for people of color in our community isn’t 5%, it’s 18%.”

As a Truth, Racial Health and Transformation Campus Center, Otterbein will work with its own campus community as well as the Columbus City and Westerville City school districts to create positive narrative change about race; promote racial healing activities; and erase structural barriers to equal treatment and opportunity. Otterbein believes a deliberate, systematic and public effort of inclusion and healing is possible when everyone works together.

Otterbein President John Comerford stated that diversity and inclusion have been strong pillars at Otterbein since its founding in 1847, but that the university recognizes that there is still work to do. “We believe that higher education should be the great equalizer in our society, so we are grateful to partner with the Association of American Colleges and Universities in this capacity,” said Comerford.

According to Angel Banks ’21, an Otterbein student and president of Otterbein African American Student Union, “Healing from racial traumas is empowering and allows civil engagement with people that have real or perceived differences from you.”

“I’d like to set a new standard for what a good education is,” said Brown, “By the time they [my kids] go to college, I want them to be looking at measuring institutions not based on some statistics in the US News and World Report, but whether a campus is reckoning with big issues like racial healing.”

Learn more about the nationwide Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Centers program at

Watch the entire announcement on the Otterbein YouTube channel.