Claflin University’s ambitious goals of providing access to its exceptional academic programs and its commitment to leading the discourse on finding solutions to the disparities and inequities faced by minority populations were on full display Wednesday, June 30, during the official opening of the University’s new Downtown Center. A ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated Claflin’s arrival to the renovated facility on 1425 Russell Street in Orangeburg, S.C.
“When I first met Orangeburg Mayor Michael C. Butler, he expressed his commitment to making sure this city would be a vibrant place to live, work, and play,” said Claflin President Dwaun J. Warmack. “I told him Claflin will play a significant role in this process and today we are taking the first steps.”
The Downtown Center will house the Center for Social Justice and Claflin’s new Center for Global Education, established by a merger of The Center for Professional and Continuing Studies and Claflin Online.
The Center for Social Justice coordinates Claflin’s transformative Pathways From Prison Program. The program is funded by the Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Grant which allows incarcerated individuals to receive federal funding to enroll in postsecondary programs offered by local colleges and universities or distance learning.
“When I think about social justice, I think about four components," Warmack said. “First, healthcare disparities that hit African American communities when COVID-19 manifested, and African Americans were dying at a significantly higher rate than others. I have continued to say that COVID-19 is not racist, but hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other pre-existing conditions are impacting our communities.”
Warmack stated that as an HBCU (historically black college/university) Claflin needs to lead the research to find solutions to these problems.
“Secondly, our Center for Social Justice will focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives,” he said. “We will train organizations and corporations and their executives and offer certificates and certification programs for diversity and inclusion. This work has already started.”
Focus on prison education to break the prison pipeline was Warmack’s third component.
“We are offering the Second Chance Pell Grant to incarcerated individuals who deserve a second chance at earning a college education,” said Warmack, a 2019 USA Eisenhower Fellow. His research during his fellowship explored global best practices for reducing mass incarceration through education and rehabilitation. Claflin University was the only HBCU in South Carolina among 67 colleges and universities nationwide selected for The Second Chance Pell Grant. Claflin recently launched its first cohort of students participating in this historic initiative.
In addition to the grant from the Department of Education, Claflin received a $525,000 grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc., a research-based biopharmaceutical company, to support initiatives and programs conducted by the Center for Social Justice.
Warmack’s agenda for the Center for Social Justice also includes police education. He said the Center will offer certificate and certification programs that will help urban and rural police develop unconscious bias training.
“We want to make sure that African Americans are part of the solution and not part of the problem,” Warmack said.
The Center for Professional and Continuing Studies (CPCS) and Claflin Online, programs that comprise the Downtown Center’s Global Education Center, are also vital to Warmack’s projections for expanding the University’s academic outreach throughout Orangeburg. The CPCS coordinates enrollment for mostly non-traditional learners enrolled in one of the four accelerated online or on-campus bachelor’s degree programs or one of the five accelerated online or on-campus master’s degree programs. It also collaborates with the Center for Social Justice in implementing the Pathways From Prison Program.
Claflin Online offers broad access to the University’s exemplary bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and certificate programs in an online educational environment. Claflin Online provides online delivery of four bachelor’s degree programs and four master’s degree programs.
“Our new Center for Global Education will offer everything that will improve the lives of residents in this community, including certificate and certification programs, workforce development training, and small business startups,” Warmack said.
“This is part of the vision we have for downtown Orangeburg. We want to attract more foot traffic downtown and one of the vehicles to do this is through partnerships with the local colleges and universities,” said Butler, a 1983 Claflin graduate. “We want to bring students from behind the walls and out into the city of Orangeburg. We want to look like other cities where local universities have buildings in their downtown areas that bring foot traffic into the city. With Claflin’s Downtown Center, that vision has begun.”
In his closing remarks, Warmack announced that another ribbon-cutting ceremony will be coming soon - Claflin’s Center for Economic and Workforce Development which will provide minority and women’s businesses startup opportunities. He said this center will also be in downtown Orangeburg.
“This is an exciting time, and we are committed to the city of Orangeburg,” Warmack said. “As I said before, I did not want Claflin to just survive the pandemic, I wanted us to thrive. And this is evidence of the great work that has happened. This is the year for elevation and transformation.”