WATERVILLE — Thomas College President Laurie Lachance is creating a Presidential Task Force on Equity, Diversity and Social Justice in response to the killings of black community members and the need to address systemic racism in our society.

Laurie Lachance Submitted photo

Two weeks ago, Lachance wrote the Thomas College community condemning the death of George Floyd and committing to address racism. On Thursday, she followed up with the creation of the task force and the appointment of two of the college’s professors to head the effort, according to a news release from the Waterville college.

The purpose of the task force is to make equity, diversity and social justice the focus of a long-term effort on campus, building those topics into the college’s academic disciplines and culture, offering programs on those issues, and creating a more diverse community, the release says.

In a first step toward those goals, Lachance has appointed professors Richard Biffle and Judith Hansen-Childers as co-chairs of the task force.

“Both Rich and Judy have been teaching, studying, and leading in this area for many years, and I have faith in their knowledge of, passion for, and commitment to making real change in our approach to fully addressing issues of diversity and social justice at Thomas College,” Lachance said in the release.

Richard Biffle is a professor of education and anthropology and teaches courses in education, sociology, anthropology and archaeology.


Richard Biffle Photo by John McKeith submitted by Thomas College

He earned his bachelor’s in political science at the University of California, Riverside; a master’s in education administration and leadership at Eastern Michigan University; and his doctorate in educational anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

Biffle has lived and traveled around the world, the release says. He has served as a consultant in the areas of social justice, civil and human rights, equity and diversity program design, community organization and planning, teacher education/preparation and multicultural education and has held a number of leadership positions with state and national organizations, including as a national staff member with the NAACP.

“We have a responsibility in college and university communities to provide holistic learning experiences that develop a spirit of active engagement,” Biffle said. “This requires a deeper knowledge and understanding of the social, political, economic, and psychological issues associated with racial injustice and racial inequality.”

Judy Hansen Childers Photo submitted by Thomas College

Judith Hansen-Childers is an associate professor of humanities at Thomas College, teaching courses in philosophy, political science, history and humanities, including a course on social diversity and oppression for the Faculté de Travail Social et de Justice Sociale/College of Social Work and Social Justice in Haiti, according to the release.

Hansen-Childers earned her bachelor’s in theology and philosophy at Trinity College in Washington, D.C; an MBA and a master’s in computer technology education from Thomas College; and a graduate certificate in Middle East Studies from American Public University.

Hansen-Childers has traveled to Northern Ireland, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Israel to participate in faculty seminars focused on social justice, human rights, diversity, equity, and peace and conflict resolution. Her study and research led to the creation of courses on terrorism, genocide, global justice, and the Middle East, the college said.


“I grew up amidst the segregation of the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Hansen-Childers said.” My family was from the South. In fact, all my ancestors were from the South – and they were racists. Many of them were the oppressors, but another branch of the family, as it turned out, were the oppressed – a fact that was carefully hidden and buried in myth. I have always had a strong sense of social justice and spent a great deal of my childhood and college years challenging my parents’ worldview. I am still challenging people’s worldview. Just ask my students.”

The task force’s five goals are to:

• Empower everyone in our community with knowledge and understanding, and to nurture a commitment to diversity and social justice across disciplines for students, staff and faculty by creating a culture that allows for that.

• Create and support educational programs on diversity and social justice through dialogues, reading circles, symposiums, and guest lecturers.

• Build a more diverse community.

• Develop curriculum and co-curricular activities related to diversity and social justice.

• Provide support and resources for diversity and social justice efforts across campus.

The college said its next step is to identify task force members from a broad representation of stakeholders to identify plans. Those members, the college said, will work to create a culture and community at Thomas College that is inclusive, compassionate, and passionate about equity, diversity, and social justice.

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