Main content
Sharon Stroye appointed Emory’s inaugural director of truth, racial healing and transformation

Sharon Stroye will join Emory on July 1 to lead Emory’s establishment of a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center in partnership with the American Association of Colleges and Universities.

“I see the work I will do at Emory as the culmination of all the different spaces and places I have been in,” says Sharon Stroye, who will join Emory University as the inaugural director of truth, racial healing and transformation (TRHT) on July 1.

For the past five years, Stroye has served as the founding director of the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center at Rutgers University-Newark, a position she will retire from as she transitions to Emory.

“The real power of the TRHT approach is expressed well in its name,” says Ravi V. Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, who served on the steering committee for one of the 10 inaugural TRHT centers in his previous role as dean of engineering at Duke University.

“To heal and transform, we must begin with a truthful, nonjudgmental discussion that respects the inherent value of each person and the understanding that varied perspectives reflect our human journey. Emory is committed to cultivating a campus community ethos where everyone can bring their whole selves with them to work, teach, learn and create,” says Bellamkonda.

“I thank Enku Gelaye, senior vice president and dean of Campus Life, and Vice Provost Carol Henderson for bringing TRHT to Emory, and I am delighted that Sharon Stroye will bring her expertise to help us advance our shared work toward racial and social justice and understanding through TRHT,” he adds.

The value of TRHT

In 2016, TRHT emerged as an approach to racial equity work that connects healing with systemic transformation. Launched by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, TRHT was designed in partnership with hundreds of leaders, scholars and organizations. Its foundational pillars are narrative change, or truth-telling, and racial healing and relationship building, which arise out of establishing trust and a recognized, shared humanity.

Centers such as the one at Rutgers were established in partnership with the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) to, as its website states, “prepare the next generation of leaders to break down systemic racism and dismantle belief in a hierarchy of human value.” The goal is to establish at least 150 such centers — currently, there are 71 — at higher education institutions across the country.

Under Stroye’s leadership, the Rutgers University-Newark center has been a national leader within the TRHT network, in large part owing to Stroye’s extensive experience in designing, facilitating and implementing programming, as well as training racial healing professionals, across diverse industries and sectors. For the past three years, she served as a faculty mentor at the AAC&U annual TRHT Summer Institute.

“This role was created to join the national conversation in higher education about truth and reconciliation as Emory grapples with its own legacy and charts a path forward to restorative engagement and justice. We cannot wait to welcome Sharon here; she brings abundant gifts critical to our efforts,” says Carol E. Henderson, vice provost for diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officer and adviser to the president.

‘Accounting’ for why she does the work

With 30 years of experience in higher education, Stroye says, “My goal has always been to help students recognize their greatness, to believe they can change the world and — in pursuit of those ends — to provide them advice to reach their fullest possible academic, personal, professional and financial development.”

It is why Stroye, as she was nearing graduation as an undergraduate accounting major, answered a classmate’s question — “Are you going to go for your CPA license?” — with a flat no.

Stroye, an Upward Bound program alumna herself, had begun working for an Upward Bound program and was drawn to “help students who looked like me pursue a postsecondary degree. I am first-generation in my family, and I was determined to give students desiring to pursue a college education, at 17 or 18, the support I didn’t have.”

Stroye’s focus was empowering for so many students, but she came to realize it was not enough. “If these students are still entering a world that does not welcome them, then the seed planting I did in their lives will not reach full bloom,” she notes.

To change environments, healing is key “because of the long-term, historical trauma and violence that has laid the foundation of this country,” Stroye says. “And when the true history of this country is not taught, everyone suffers regardless of background. There are groups of people who benefit from fear and divisiveness, but it is our responsibility to combat the notion of fear and separation.”

With the rise of TRHT, Stroye saw a crucial way forward, “creating places and spaces, through a methodological framework and process, where all people are welcome and healing can take place.” She is unfailingly honest about the effort involved. In her words, it is “a forever endeavor.”

“Participants have asked me,” she says, “‘Will you see equality in your lifetime?’ I don’t think so, but I don’t do this work for me. I do it for the people coming behind me. Sometimes, as an African American woman, it is challenging to do this work. But I am also the best person to do this work.”

As she prepares to leave Rutgers, Stroye is especially proud of her work collaborating with the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prison (NJ-STEP) program. Watching returning citizens advance their education and transition out of prison has been “an honor and privilege,” she says. The NJ-STEP scholars are trained as racial healing circles facilitators.

“They have experienced living in a marginalized and restrictive environment where they have been made to feel less than,” Stroye observes. “Creative and intelligent, they are some of the best facilitators because they are bringing their lived experience infused with compassion and empathy.”

Aspirations for Emory

Stroye has high praise for the environment she will join at Emory, noting that “the work Emory has been doing, and is doing, is not performative. From the top down, the university has a mission and people dedicated to truth-telling, healing work and envisioning a transformative future — that is not easy.”

Once here, Stroye will align her efforts with the One Emory strategic framework and the racial and social justice initiatives led by President Gregory L. Fenves; the goals that have arisen from the 2022 DEI Strategic Planning Report led by Henderson; faculty grants for racial and social justice research sponsored by the Office of the Provost; as well as Emory’s founding membership in ATL Action for Racial Equality.

Stroye learned valuable lessons at Rutgers, and she will apply them here.

“When we started TRHT, we embarked on something extremely new and different. In all fairness, in the early stages, I don’t think we anticipated the investment required and/or the impact the work of the center would have in the community. The demands and outcomes dictate that the director should be responsible only for managing the center and nothing else.”

Indeed, those are the terms on which Stroye comes to Emory. Of the 71 TRHT centers nationwide, there is only one whose director currently is solely focused on TRHT; Stroye will be the second.

Her goal, always, is to concentrate on what she terms “the movable middle.” She describes this group as “individuals who may find it challenging or feel too vulnerable entering a space of racial healing and unsure of how to engage in conversation, discussion, workshops or training as their authentic self. It is my intent to foster an environment where everyone feels welcome regardless of what level they are willing to learn or unlearn.”

Stroye describes a racial healing circle she facilitated as an example of what she means by the movable middle. In all racial healing circles (in-person or virtual), the group agreement is that everything is voluntary. In virtual racial healing circles, individuals can remain off-camera, if preferred, and silent. As this particular session was closing, Stroye asked the question she always poses: “What is your primary takeaway from what you heard today?”

A young man who had been silent and off-camera wrote in the chat: “I am a moron.” Encouraged by Stroye to say more, he continued: “Only in this last year did I realize that I didn’t know anything about racism.”

Stroye responded: “I want to validate you for the new journey you are on. Sit and listen for as long as you need to. Don’t be afraid or feel bad. Just keep listening, learning and watching.”

At Emory, partnering with Henderson, campus life leadership, and academic and administrative units, Stroye will develop and implement a vision for TRHT that aligns with institutional efforts.

“The foundational framework is grounded in commonality and humanity; we have more in common than we are different,” Stroye stresses. “We have to start with humanity before we begin a conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion; justice; and collaboration.”

On ‘being me’

For anyone skeptical of the precepts of TRHT, Stroye welcomes that conversation. In a long, productive career, she has had the hard conversations, including with herself, as she “dismantled my own biased belief system about white people.”

“I have always been this way, a little different, didn’t quite fit into the mold,” she acknowledges. “I am okay with that. I am going to show up being my 100% authentic, passionate self. When I am passionate about something, you will always get the best of me.”

Asked what the community can do to help, she answered: “I look forward to collaborating with people who are willing to be transparent, honest and authentic. It may sound difficult to some, but that is what humanity is about — appreciating all of our similarities and differences.”

Stroye became a grandmother for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. She explains part of the reason she is willing to mentor other colleges and universities exploring the idea of hosting a TRHT center: “I don’t know where my grandson will end up. I want to plant a seed in as many spaces and places as I can. I want him to be able to walk Black, male and free in this country.”

As her 86-year-old mother energetically cleans out closets, excited about the move to Atlanta with her daughter and son-in-law, Stroye sees the pieces falling in place.

“I was sent here to do this work, and I am grateful to be able to live out my purpose by advancing the meaningful efforts Emory already has begun toward acknowledging the full humanity of everyone in the community.”

Recent News