Published: Nov. 3, 2011

MSU professor named to Detroit commission

Contact(s): Kristan Tetens Residential College in the Arts and Humanities office: (517) 884-6290, Estrella Torrez RCAH office: (517) 884-1327

EAST LANSING, Mich. - A Michigan State University faculty member has been named to the nine-member Metro Detroit Truth and Reconciliation Commission by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. It is Michigan's first such commission.

Estrella Torrez, assistant professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, will be sworn in Friday, Nov. 4, during Michigan Roundtable's Race2Equality Conference at Cobo Hall.

For the next 18 to 24 months, the Metro Detroit Truth and Reconciliation Commission will study racial inequality in Detroit in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the historical roots and legacies of race-based opportunity, including segregation and housing discrimination. It will also examine what can be done to create a new regional culture in metro Detroit.

The commission will then produce a report with recommendations on ways to achieve regional equity.

"I'm very pleased to be part of this effort to address discrimination in Detroit," said Torrez, who attended the University of Detroit Mercy. "My personal interest is working directly with community members who have struggled with racial privilege and racial inequity to learn more about the issues involved. I'd like to bring their stories to the table so that their voices are front and center during the commission's work."

Torrez has previously been involved in outreach and advocacy work in southeast Michigan through her participation on the education committee of the Latino Agenda Conference, a consortium of leaders from Detroit's government, media and faith sectors working to address issues impacting the city's Latino community.

"Racism continues to cast a shadow over southeast Michigan," said Thomas Costello, president and CEO of the Michigan Roundtable. "Racial segregation is also the segregation of opportunity and hope for the future. An inclusive and prosperous future can only be ensured by an inquiry into and understanding of the structural dynamics of racial segregation, past and present."

According to the Michigan Roundtable, truth commissions are non-judicial, independent panels of inquiry typically set up to establish the facts and context of serious violations of human rights. The commissions' members are usually empowered to conduct research, support victims and propose policy recommendations to prevent recurrence of violations. Most commissions focus on victims' needs as a path toward reconciliation and reducing conflict over the past.

The Detroit commission was inspired by similar commissions created in South Africa and in Greensboro, N. C., which have encouraged an understanding of past injustices and supported constructive remedies to create a new regional culture of fairness, equal opportunity, and prosperity.

The commission's other members include Alan Amen, Robert Brown, Khalilah Burt Gaston, Carrie Landrum, Rev. Tom Priest, Rev. Tom Robinson, Tom Shurtleff and Akua Budu-Watkins.