ASU dance major Tyler Tobyne, who works part-time as a program and events assistant for ASU’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, felt that student and university recognition wasn’t enough for what the center's assistant director Deborah Cox and program manager Sarah Herrera do to secure funding, speakers and thoughtful programming on the topics of race and democracy.
“So I went for the biggest thing I could think of,” Tobyne said, explaining the decision to try to get the attention of the White House.
The effort worked, and earlier this month the Obamas sent Cox and Herrera a note, thanking them for their work. “I was shocked,” Tobyne said. “I didn’t think that she would be able to obtain a letter, but it’s awesome.”
“We were surprised,” Cox said upon receiving the official letter of recognition. “How did they even know about us? We are very proud to be recognized for what we do and for the value we strive to bring to the community.”
Based on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy works to bring ASU and the greater community together in efforts that promote unity and understanding across cultural and racial boundaries and involve more individuals in participatory democracy.
The center’s programming includes solutions-oriented workshops, high-profile lectures and other special events that draw people into a setting where diversity, civil dialog, and guided discussion can contribute to:
• The dismantling of myths and stereotypes about race, ethnicity, gender, culture, economic class, immigrant status, sexual orientation and disability.
• An understanding of our common humanity and how we all can become architects of change.
• Recognition, understanding and alleviation of systemic racism, privilege and power.
Over the last four years, the center's events have attracted and engaged more than 15,000 participants.
Now its seventh year, the center is still young compared to other ASU centers, and Herrera thinks receiving this letter is a great way to get recognition for the center.
“Our programming footprint has really grown in the last few years and our community connection has grown, too, “ Herrera said. “So this recognition means a lot to us.”
The letter read:
"It is such a pleasure to send my greetings to you in Phoenix. I am so excited that Barack and I were given the opportunity to hear about all the work being done by the Center for the Study of Race & Democracy to address the epidemic of race and equality in America.
We know that creating this future won’t be easy. But, with people like Deborah Cox as well as Sarah Herrera at the Center for the Study of Race & Democracy we know that our nation is in good hands. You two aim to give minorities and democracy a fighting chance at succeeding in society. Achieving these goals will take a lot of hard work, but with the continued efforts of organizations like the Center for the Study of Race & Democracy, I know that we can raise a better future.
One thing is sure: None of these goals can be accomplished without people all across the country thinking big and working effectively to find solutions that work for their own communities. I hope that our letter to you provides you an opportunity to know that your work is not in vain.
Thank you again for all that you are doing. As you have shown, each of us can take it upon ourselves to create a more diverse future for our children.
Barack & Michelle
In April of this year, Cox and Herrera were recognized with the ASU Commission on the Status of Women Achievement Award for a staff team. In 2015, CSRD received an ASU Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award and in 2014 received a Diversity Leadership Alliance, Cultural Transformation Inclusive Workplace Award.
Upcoming CSRD events:
Brown Bag Series: Examining Whiteness Through Art
noon-1 p.m., Sept. 20
ASU Downtown Phoenix campus
Mercado C, Room 145
502 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix, AZ
Anatomy of the N-Word
6-8:30 p.m., Sept. 30
South Mountain Community College
Student Union, Room 100
7050 S 24th St. Phoenix, AZ
Race and Sports Town Hall
4-6 p.m., Nov. 14
Virginia G. Piper Theater, Mesa Center for the Arts
1 E. Main St. Mesa, AZ 85201