A Time to Dream
What would an institution that is genuinely dedicated to diversity really look like?
Recently, a few of us in our department had a lively discussion about diversity in Christian Higher Education and the state of our institution. We were an ethnically diverse group having this discussion, White, African-American, Latino, and Asian American. We were blessed to have the benefit of diverse perspectives. Two of us were directors in Student Affairs, one was a student, and one was physically disabled.
For many of us, the issues and challenges we face in this area seemed to be deeply entrenched not only in the culture of the institution but also in the culture of our society. Our discussion soon brought us face to face with the fact that many of these issues and challenges are also entrenched in the culture of American Evangelical Christianity. We soon landed on a familiar question: "What would an institution that is genuinely dedicated to diversity really look like?" I have heard this question many times through the years as we tackle these issues, but it is almost always left hanging, unanswered.
I went for a walk the next day around our campus and pondered, "What would an institution look like if it truly reflected the diversity in the Body of Christ?" I then realized that what a Christian College/University should "look" like was only a part of the equation. We also need to ask "How should a Christian College/University function?" "What are the values that drive us to be more diverse?" "Where should these values emanate from?" All of these questions point us to a much deeper source which then contributes to what we would "look" like. So, just as Dr. Martin Luther King articulated his dream for a nation over thirty years ago, I sought to articulate my dream for cultural and ethnic diversity in Christian Higher Education.
What would a campus committed to diversity look like? The vision and direction of a campus committed to diversity would always be articulated from the highest leadership. We would see and hear the President, the Provost and Director of Finance display a firm understanding of how a diverse institution functions and what it takes to make continued progress. The vision would be communicated in written form as well as articulated publicly. The leadership of the institution would also model their commitment to a diverse workplace, learning environment and lifestyle.
Recruiting and hiring of diversity-competent faculty and administrators would be a priority. This would mean that the institution would be proactive in diverse communities, enjoying a healthy relationship between the institution and various organizations in the surrounding community. The institution would hire employees that would enhance the climate of the campus. Not only would this mean hiring an ethnically diverse administration and faculty, but also hiring white women and men who are firmly committed to multicultural education.
Being that the institution would be active in service to the surrounding community, they would also be committed to the recruiting of students from many diverse backgrounds. Hence the Admissions Department would be proactive in connecting and recruiting students that would make up an ethnically diverse student body. Admissions counselors would display cultural sensitivity and travel into many urban and suburban locations to connect with prospective students and their families. A wide variety of methods of recruiting would be appropriated, as constituents from different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic backgrounds would be dealt with in a sensitive and respectful manner.
The Student Orientation Program would understand how crucial its role is in matriculating students from diverse backgrounds into the institution. A diverse campus with students from diverse ethnic backgrounds brings a challenge of different regional and socio-economic backgrounds. These students would bring a variety of challenges as well as energy that would enrich the orientation process. Be they from rural, suburban or urban backgrounds, the orientation program would be well equipped to meet the various needs of incoming students as well as ministering to their families.
The chapel program would be an exciting reflection of a diverse Body of Christ active in a diverse worship experience. Chapels would reflect the scripture in Revelation 5:9, where "a multitude worshiped Him from every kindred, tongue, people and nation." Styles of worship would include many cultural expressions including Latin rhythms, Gospel Music, Hip-Hop, spoken word, and music made with instruments from around the world. Preaching styles and themes would reflect the diversity of the Body of Christ, as speakers from diverse communities would be their authentic self, ministering to the student body in the same way they would in their own community. This experience would equip the student body to worship in many different contexts and minister to many different kinds of people in the world.
Our Bible, Theology and Spiritual Formation classes would be a place where every student would be thoroughly equipped to be able to articulate the Biblical basis for racial reconciliation and social justice. Firm Biblical principles means that the Bible is our authority. It is divinely inspired and thus should be our guide to holy living. Here is where all our convictions should find their source. God is the primary reason why we must address the challenge of diversity. It is God's design for His Body to be diverse and we should reflect that here on earth. The Bible also addresses our influence in the world. Biblical themes such as justice, compassion, reconciliation and shalom must also be a part of our daily spiritual reflections. Professors would teach with a deep understanding and passion from the scriptures of how social ills were addressed in Biblical times and how we should be people of justice and compassion in our contemporary world. Jews, Gentiles, Hellenists, and Samaritans were commanded to love one another in Biblical times, and so are African-Americans, Whites, Asians, Latinos, and Native-Americans commanded to love one another today.
The overall curriculum across all disciplines would reflect a diverse worldview that would equip students to think on many levels and thus relate to many different kinds of people. Hence, music classes would teach on many styles of rhythm and music theory. History classes would include the contributions all different ethnic groups and cultures to societies being studied. Literature classes would study many writers from diverse cultures and perspectives. In all disciplines, the faculty would model in their classes a passion for growth, and students would also learn from their example as well as their academic pursuits.
Our Residence Life program would be committed to not only being a place where students from diverse backgrounds are welcome, but a place where we intentionally learn to live with one another working through our differences and learning to appreciate them. Students would live with roommates that come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Resident Directors and Resident Assistants alike would be skilled to facilitate the adjustments that go with diverse community living. The programming in the Residence Halls would be inclusive of all peoples and intentionally educate students of the different worldviews that surround us.
Obviously the list could go on and on. The challenges we face in our society will always be changing; hence my dream campus would also be a place where ongoing "process" would be a key value. Our thinking would always be fresh. We would welcome inquiry, we would value growth, and we would always assess our progress. Constant growth, reflection, and inquiry would be valued and thus the institution would be continually maturing. People would reflect internally and dialogue collectively. We would grow from exposure to these diverse perspectives. When it is evident that there is a lack of diverse perspectives in our midst, we would make it a priority to bring in more diverse perspectives to better facilitate our climate of process. As always, the authoritative Word of God would be our standard and our guide. All in all, diversity on all levels of the institution, becomes more normative.
What is your vision? Do you have a dream? Think on it. Pray on it. Write it out and then submit it to your fellow colleagues. Get feedback. Ask questions. Have more dialogue. And then take one or two steps that hopefully will begin a lifelong journey of growth and bearing fruit as we heed the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."