Bowie State University and the University of Maryland in College Park have unveiled a partnership to promote social justice and honor Richard Collins III, the Black Bowie State and ROTC student who was murdered in 2017.

The launch of the BSU-UMD Social Justice Alliance came as tougher hate crime laws took effect Thursday in Maryland. Collins’s killer was a White U-Md. student who was a member of the Facebook group “Alt Reich: Nation” and had racist memes stored on his phone.

Leaders at the state’s flagship school and oldest historically Black university said they see the alliance as a way to further research about racism and social injustice. Local officials are looking to the alliance for recommendations to reform the criminal justice system.

“We’re looking to create greater awareness through research in addressing these issues across all disciplines,” said Aminta H. Breaux, president of Bowie State. “I don’t believe there’s enough information out there that raises awareness about the data, and what’s happening in our communities — the disparities and why people are suffering from social injustice.”

The Social Justice Alliance will be composed of faculty from both universities, officials said. Bowie State will identify a centralized location on its campus to house some of the alliance’s activities.

Coordinators Kimetta Hairston, an associate professor at Bowie State, and Georgina Dodge, vice president for diversity and inclusion at U-Md., will lead teams on their respective campuses to find ways to incorporate principles of social justice into classrooms across disciplines.

The alliance will also host conferences, seminars and other events to encourage conversations about racism and systemic inequity.

“Tackling social justice affects everyone, and through our work we want to have a positive impact on our campuses, as well as our region and beyond,” Dodge said in a statement.

U-Md. President Darryll J. Pines has been vocal about confronting racism in College Park since he took office in July. He said the alliance will create opportunities to further that mission.

“This is going to be an incredible partnership that will lead to actionable, implementable solutions to social justice across police reform, health inequities and other areas,” Pines said.

Collins, 23, was a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Army when he was fatally stabbed at a College Park bus stop in May 2017, days before his graduation. Collins was posthumously promoted to first lieutenant.

Collins’s killer, Sean Urbanski, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2019, but a judge dismissed a hate crime charge because prosecutors had not proved Collins’s race was the sole reason he was murdered, despite the racist content on his phone.

“That’s a very narrow interpretation, and it’s a very tough burden to meet,” said Aisha Braveboy, state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, where U-Md. and Bowie State are located.

Under the law that took effect Thursday, race and identity need only be a “substantial part” of the motivation behind a hate crime. It will “change the way prosecutors are able to hold individuals accountable for hate crimes in our state,” Braveboy said.

The state’s attorney said the university alliance could help determine the direction of her office.

“We are here to look, really, to this alliance for guidance, as well as we look at reforming our justice system here in the county. We want to know what the new and best approaches are,” she said.

Collins’s parents, Richard and Dawn Collins, said at Thursday’s announcement they were excited about the future of the alliance and the research both schools plan to produce.

“We, here in Maryland, did something about our hate crime law, but there are states in the United States that don’t have hate crime laws,” said the lieutenant’s mother. “I’m excited because this is just the beginning for what I’m envisioning across the nation.”