VSU Announces the Nation’s First HBCU Center for Policing Leadership and Social Justice

Virginia State University unveils history-making Center to address relationship between law enforcement and communities of color. 

VIRGINIA STATE UNIVERSITY, VA—August 18, 2021— Virginia State University has established the nation’s first HBCU Center for Policing Leadership and Social Justice.  The newly established initiative, known as The Center, will further allow VSU and the surrounding communities to address the critical divide between law enforcement and communities of color. 

The mission of The Center is to provide an intellectual, creative, and action-oriented space to engage in collaborative research, training, policy and program development to address the social, political, economic, and cultural issues that have historically impacted communities of color and police/community relations.  The Center will also house subject matter experts and specialized trainers and educators on topics of national discourse and policy on policing, criminal justice reform, and race relations in America.  

In 2020, Virginia State University took a groundbreaking approach as an HBCU by establishing the Policing Leadership Taskforce which was organized by Dr. Zoe Spencer, VSU Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice. The Task Force is comprised of Regional Police Chiefs and Sheriffs, Community leaders and activists, and VSU Faculty, Staff, and Students. The newly established  “The Center” will take the vision of the Task Force to new heights.

“For decades, we have seen our country crying out for change, but especially after the death of George Floyd in 2020. We knew it was our duty to try to ensure that something like that never happens again. The work to do that started with VSU Professor, Dr. Zoe Spencer, creating our history making Policing Task Force,” said President Makola M. Abdullah. “It continues now with our new Center for Policing Leadership and Social Justice. To our knowledge, this center is the first of its kind at an HBCU or perhaps nationwide, but thanks to our team of trailblazers here, hopefully it will not be the last.” 

The Task Force has responded to the call to serve and has made a commitment to the challenging work and relationship building necessary both to and for both communities. The Center will now serve as the site to continue to build upon that work and commitment, regionally, state-wide, and nationally. 

“All we have to do is to look at the case of former Virginia State University student, Caron Nazario, to see that action remains necessary. We are merely answering that call," says Dr. Spencer.  "While we are certainly not the first to create a dedicated space to do social justice work, I am most excited about our concerted effort to come together to have those very uncomfortable conversations and to engage in the very challenging work that is required to substantively address the historic divide that antagonizes interactions between law enforcement and communities of color in particular. That is the innovation." 

"I am proud to be committed to such a groundbreaking, much needed program,” said Jeffrey Faries, Chief of the Colonial Heights Police Department. “We as public safety leaders, across the country, must acknowledge that our profession has work to do in order to be a part of the solution. Listening, learning and truly understanding as one is paramount to the healing that must take place in order to improve our society. I look forward to continuing our efforts together."  

As the new academic year begins, The Center's collaborative will begin planning for its reconvening conference in October, where they will continue to invite a broader network of committed Police Chiefs, Community leaders, activists, and returning students who will join the collaboration as vital research and engagement interns. 

"With this groundbreaking Center for Policing Leadership and Social Justice, VSU is truly standing on our mantra that Greater Happens Here.  I am truly honored to be building with such a phenomenal group of leaders," says Spencer. "Through our interlocking collaborations, we hope that not only will 'greater happen here,' but I think we are all hoping that greater will happen in our communities, our State, and across our country.”