Perspectives

Harrell continues mission towards "Becoming the Beloved Community" in Auburn

In the two years since moving from Washington, D.C. to call Auburn home, the Rev. Dr. Joan Harrell has quickly become a familiar name and face on campus and within the Auburn community. With a background in news and media as an award-winning journalist and scholar, she brings a combination of experience and fresh insight to Auburn. A wearer of many titles, she is known in the classroom as a discussion driving lecturer who teaches a variety of courses including magazine feature writing, the history of journalism, faith and community, diversity and democracy, literary journalism, and the intersectionality of media ethics and vulnerable populations. 

A theologian both in knowledge and at heart, she is equally invested in others as an ordained minister whose scholarship centers around religion, ethics, and vulnerable populations. Perhaps, though, her best title is not a title at all, but rather, her genuine passion for people and the firm belief that everyone deserves to be looked in the eye as a valued individual. 

It is with a humble spirit that Harrell embraces the individual while encouraging others to do the same as Auburn University’s Inaugural Diversity Coordinator for the School of Communication and Journalism, as well as a Diversity Officer for the College of Liberal Arts. She saw and continues to see the dire need for inclusivity and diversity to intersect in a world prone to divisiveness. It is through this lens that she chose to further her mission by proposing a message of “Becoming the Beloved Community” to the Auburn University Office of Inclusion and Diversity. “And so ‘Becoming the Beloved Community’s’ programs and events are focused on creating and developing opportunities for Auburn University, students, faculty, staff, and the Auburn University family to intentionally engage in learning, discussing, and being able to literally look one another in the eye,” Harrell said. 

She said “Becoming” the beloved community is a strategic description coined by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. “‘Becoming’ philosophically means in the process of changing. We are working within the framework of Dr. King's concept, which he introduced to the world to end segregation during the Civil Rights movement in the 20th century; his vision was for America and the world to experience a beloved community which respected all members of humanity,” Harrell said. 

Her mission is to one day see we have “become” the beloved community. “Unfortunately, we find ourselves in 2019, in the 21st century, and we have not become the beloved community in its truest sense because members of the human community are experiencing marginalization because of their skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture and or religion, therefore, the programs, the classes, the events that are created within the context of 'Becoming the Beloved Community' are intentional actions to help us to 'become,'” Harrell said. 

The first event of the fall semester, called, “Intentional Listening: How to Love Your Neighbor in the Midst of Terror” is free and open to the public. The event is Thursday, Sept. 12, from 5:30 - 8:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church. Attendees will be encouraged in a community setting with an intergenerational, interfaith, and multicultural potluck, dialogue, and candle light vigil. 

Harrell says Auburn University offers a community of good listeners with room to improve. “I think already they're good listeners because they have welcomed the programs which are still relatively new to the community, but they are also realizing that more listening is needed,” said Harrell. She says listening only begins with the ears. “When we listen, we also have to be willing to be able to listen with our eyes. Because when a person is talking, you will not only hear their voice or hear the tone in their voice… it causes you to look directly into a person's eyes. And you will see what they are experiencing when they share their personal narratives; it causes one to think about how another member of the human family is being treated.” Harrell said. 

Students and the Auburn community can also look forward to a future fall event featuring Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo Movement and an Auburn alumna. Burke will be speaking at the “Extraordinary Women” lecture series on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 4:00 p.m. at Telfair Peet Theatre’s Main Stage. The event is free and open to the public.

When leaving these events, Harrell’s intent is not for the conversation to end. “The goal is for people to meet, hear, and intentionally see each other. It’s the beginning,” Harrell said. 


Written by Karah Rhodes for the College of Liberal Arts | Auburn University 

Last Updated: September 10, 2019