Link to Dissertation, Georgia State University

Abstract: "Informed by archival data and oral history interviews, this dissertation explored stories of the lived experiences of the stakeholders of Mercer University’s Beloved Community. The goal was to gain insight into how higher educational institutions (HEIs) engaged community partners to address long-term racial injury through the process of racial reconciliation. This study included the insights of 18 participants in a racial reconciliation project named the Beloved Community; which began in 2005 and was sponsored by Mercer University, a private higher educational institution; formerly affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention. An aim of the project was to sustain a frank discourse within a safe, public forum, that would address the present and past injuries of racial segregation at the local church level and include the injured in problem solving. Mercer is one of few formerly segregated southern universities engaged in such an endeavor. The research questions were: 1) What do Mercer University’s Beloved Community stakeholders perceive as the primary goals of higher educational institutions in addressing racial reconciliation? 2) What are Mercer University’s Beloved Community stakeholders’ perceptions and lived experiences of racial reconciliation, through this project? 3) What patterns and contradictions are there in the stakeholders’ stories about their perceptions and lived experiences of racial reconciliation? The findings validate the research of Androff (2012) that reconciliation is a slow process, occurring at multiple levels, and provides insights into such an endeavor at a local level. Further, this study found that enactment of the project is influenced by social identity, collective memory, and intergroup interaction. A culture of social reconciliation, in the form of building interpersonal relationships and creating forums for racial dialogue, was the dominant form of reconciliation found within Mercer’s Beloved Community. This study is significant in examining the role of HEIs who include community partners to extend sustained scholarship, learning, and civic engagement."

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