The power of hope and truth in racial healing

Tricia Brand, our inaugural vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, talks about what sets CCA apart from other colleges and why she’s hopeful for the future.

Portrait of Tricia Brand.

Tricia Brand, CCA vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)

Tricia Brand is eager to start her CCA journey as the college’s new vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). As the college’s first-ever VP of DEIB, she will lead bold efforts to build on a campus culture already imbued with a commitment to social justice.

Brand, who has lived in almost every corner of the United States, comes to CCA from Portland Community College, where she served as both a dean and most recently its chief diversity officer. She held senior leadership roles at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Her educational background includes an EdM in educational psychology from Rutgers University and an AB in psychology and educational foundations from Washington University in St. Louis.

She grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, where her family resettled after leaving St. Louis. Her parents moved to the South for economic opportunity, and leaving what was, at the time, a city experience that was saturated with struggle for many in the African American community. While Alabama provided economic mobility, social experiences were more challenging. Brand says, “As a first-generation college student, and a Black girl in the South, I grew up with a lot of signals around my worth and saw some indignities that my parents would have to face. So part of my goal as an adult became to try to change these things in society.”

We talked with Brand a few weeks prior to her first day at CCA, as she discussed her vision for DEIB at CCA, the power of merging social justice movements, and artists who inspire her.

What are some initiatives you're excited to get started on at CCA?

I am really excited to support the relaunch of the Center for Art and Public Life (CAPL). The vision is to make it a space that is curated alongside community artists, faculty or student work, or Bay Area partnerships that bridge relationships in the community. A major goal for CAPL is to rethink what it feels like to connect culturally immersive creative spaces within the community to our students and faculty and their own forms of inquiry.

I'm also really looking forward to bringing longstanding partnerships to the new location [CAPL is moving to a new space as CCA unifies its campuses in San Francisco], and of course, fostering new partnerships as we relaunch the center itself. That is really exciting to me, and I am already beginning to do research on past projects that occurred in the Center for Art and Public Life when it was active and very vital in Oakland.

What do you find unique about CCA's commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?

I was really blown away by the Decolonial School, which is this collective of faculty from across disciplines coming together and working with voices in the community, especially leaders who bring a consciousness of indigenous ways of knowing into teaching and learning. They are beginning to think about how to reset on curriculum, how to reset on teaching, and how to reset on evaluation as well.

Coming most recently from Portland Community College, I also think CCA’s articulation agreement with the community college system in California is pretty remarkable. Serving community college students or providing education through a two-year pathway really requires a completely different level of awareness of what is needed to remove systemic barriers to an exceptional education. CCA has taken the extra step to say, "We want our community college students to know that CCA is an attainable option for local and first-generation college students and that they can explore a life and career with the arts."

CCA remains the only art and design college to house a dedicated critical ethnic studies program. What do you think that says about our community?

I think it’s huge. Having a critical ethnic studies program communicates to students and the broader CCA community that understanding systems of power is a very important part of creating art and understanding the ways in which art is represented and experienced. Artistic expression is often a conversation about relationships to power and who has voice or agency in community and society. So having a program with such a clear perspective and history really does provide a framework for folks to have both the language and the approach for deconstructing frames of social power and reconstructing them in a way that feels so much more representative of the collective of voices and community.

How would you like to see CCA engage with its community?

I would begin by understanding how CCA has seen its role in the community historically before I could really speak to guiding where and how CCA shows up in the community—especially at this very critical time as unification is happening.

An area I continue to deeply ponder: what are the feelings of loss everyone connected to CCA is currently holding while also looking toward the future? How are we potentially needing to sustain spaces for thoughtfully ending our presence in Oakland and making a new identity in San Francisco? How do we preserve aspects of what has made CCA so much a part of Oakland’s community and vice versa? All of us at the college are going to have to be very intentional about not losing critical community connections and partnerships, as we transition to a distinctive footprint in San Francisco.

One of my goals is to ensure that we sustain community relationships that have been part of what connected CCA to the community and shapes CCA’s legacy. But I also know that it's important for us to start and create new relationships in San Francisco, because we are well positioned to do that. It's really about finding that balance.

“I find the arts and creative outlets to be so powerful because they get right to the emotions and feelings that can’t really be articulated in a singular way.”

— Tricia Brand

vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging

You’re working to establish a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Center at Portland Community College. How do you see a commitment to the truth as intertwined with racial healing?

Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) is a comprehensive community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change by addressing the historic and contemporary effects of racism. Created through the Kellogg Foundation in 2016, the framework was designed to develop a holistic strategy for social change. When I think about why truth is so critical to racial healing, it’s because we have to name what has historically created harm and how that continues to show up and still harm. Frankly, every day that we aren’t closer to addressing racial equity and racial justice it means suffering. It means that people die; that is maybe the most essential truth.

Healing must occur in order for transformation to exist—and it is going to take probably as many generations to redress harm as it has taken to get to this place of generational trauma and pain. I think that is why there’s such an important relationship between this idea of truth and racial healing. It’s the acknowledgment that we cannot come from a place of innocence in our communities. We have to get honest about what it means to participate in a social structure that leads to suffering for many.

One of the TRHT frameworks is eliminating the hierarchy of human value. I love this concept. I find it accessible to me because it’s less about a specific kind of oppression or discrimination, and it’s more about all of the ways in which our human value can be ranked, exploited, or dismissed. Racial hierarchy is a key tenet, and it allows for examination and remedy within so many other intersecting identities.

We are clearly seeing a backlash to initiatives across the country that are trying to bring attention to racism and white supremacy, from school districts banning books to states banning so-called critical race theory. As a school and a community, how do you think we march ahead in these tumultuous times?

That is a really heavy question. And I’ve been sitting a lot with that, too. But many of us anticipated a backlash. We are facing this point of precarity because we’re still figuring out how to merge our movements for social progress. Merging movements to me means that if we hope to get to a point where we can be a more inclusive and just society, it requires that each of us leverage—or relinquish— aspects of our own comfort. And that’s really hard to do, partly because so much of our comfort and privilege is still unexamined to us. It’s like the air we breathe.

Because we’ve all been socialized in this hierarchical way, trying to figure out a path forward collectively means that we have to always put other needs or other forms of positionality ahead of our own. That’s how we keep building on our current social movements—Black Lives Matter, and also gender justice, disability justice, residency status, language, religion, economic disparities, and issues around intergenerational poverty. We have to figure out how we can create more of a weaving without it overwhelming folks. All forms of oppression are connected.

How do you see art and creativity as a way to heal from trauma? And whose work comes to mind when you think of creativity that heals?

I find the arts and creative outlets to be so powerful because they get right to the emotions and feelings that can’t always be articulated in a singular way. I think it’s that transcendent quality that really makes the arts such a unique channel to being able to have difficult conversations about race and other social issues.

I think about Betye Saar and the work she did to reclaim racially charged caricatures and stereotypes. Her seminal work recontextualized the portrayal of Black women and Black bodies. Alison Saar, her daughter, actually was commissioned at Lewis & Clark College to design the sculpture of York—the enslaved man who was a key party within the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The sculpture is a bold tribute, and does not turn away from the brutality York endured during his lifetime

Building upon Betye Saar's work—Kara Walker. Walker has always been to me such a powerfully evocative artist; someone who puts a certain discomfort right in front of the viewer. I became so interested in her process, her medium, and her full collection as a painter, sculptor, and silhouettist. Walker’s work requires folks to ask, “What is it that I’m supposed to see here?”

I also think of Hank Willis Thomas, a CCA alum [MA Visual Criticism, MFA Photography 2003]. I was so excited to see his work up close at the Portland Art Museum. His last exhibition focused on his installation that deconstructed the American dream and American life, and especially the integration and juxtaposition of African American experiences in American life.

“You can’t meaningfully work in education and not be constantly driven by hope.”

— Tricia Brand

vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging

In closing, what are you hopeful of for the future—at CCA and in the U.S. at large?

I like that we’re ending this conversation with hope. I don’t think you can engage in any social movement without always having some vision of hope. So that’s really important, but also you can’t really work in education and not be constantly driven by hope. It’s always looking to the future.

I’m really hopeful that CCA is going to continue to push the boundaries around recognizing a critical analysis. And it feels as if there are a lot of brilliant and engaged faculty and administrators and students in that arena. I’m also hopeful for students to continue to help co-create CCA. To me right now, art and design schools are more representative of being for and by the students than almost any other colleges in the nation.

I also am hopeful for what it looks like to have a community that has always been at the forefront of challenging structures and systems of power—especially in the Bay Area—and creating a lot more space for communities of color to help shape what it means to be part of a community. I’m especially moved by so many vibrant communities in the Bay organizing around justice. I’m hopeful that here is where these movements will merge.