AND IT COMES TO THIS: After a long, acrimonious presidential campaign, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, American voters will decide whether Barack Obama earned another four years in the White House, or whether Mitt Romney gets a chance to lead the nation. (Photo: Newscom)
During a seemingly endless 2012 election season, at times we’ve felt like the “Bronco Bama” girl in this viral video. When will it end? Presumably, on Tuesday — we hope.
Until then, we’ll continue to endure the attack ads, the conflicting polls, and the toxic bickering in the social media realm. According to various surveys, this year’s electorate is one of the most polarized in years. This forum will not solve that problem, but we thought we’d invite a few UrbanFaith contributors to share their perspectives on what to expect if President Obama is re-elected, as well as what to expect if Mitt Romney should win the presidency. Check out their opinions (which, we should say, belong to them and not necessarily UrbanFaith), then take a moment to give us your response in the comments section below.
Short Memories, Shorter Patience
By William Pannell
Ah, another opportunity to play at being sagacious. If Mr. Obama is re-elected, I would expect that he will face another four years of deadlock on key issues. Since Congress seems stuck on ideology and not the good of the people, I would expect the Republican Party, now in the firm grip of Tea Party ideologues, will continue to play games all the while having no real alternatives to offer in place of the ones they oppose. And of course, Obama will be a lame duck President in the last two years anyhow, so there goes the neighborhood.
I suspect that Mr. Romney will be elected. White, working-class Americans have very short memories. They have already forgotten that it was Romney’s party that got the country in the mess it is in. And we Americans are terribly short on patience, so if the poor man couldn’t solve real problems (which by their nature are now global problems) in four years, throw him out. Mercy, I hope I’m wrong. But I also suspect that white Americans, or many of them, have never felt comfortable with a black man in the White House. They, of course, are not racists; they are merely pro-white and Romney is all that. By the way, I voted for Mr. Romney’s father when he was governor of Michigan. He probably would have made a good President.
Dr. William E. Pannell is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Professor of Preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary. In the past he has served as a professor of evangelism and as director of the African American Studies Program. He’s the author of numerous articles and books, including The Coming Race Wars? A Cry for Reconciliation (1993), Evangelism from the Bottom Up (1992), and My Friend, the Enemy (1968).
A Turning Point for the Poor
By Walter A. McCray
President Obama’s re-election will renew the now undercurrent spirit of genuine concern for the poor. The civic emphasis will shift from the middle-class to reveal the President’s implicit and visceral aim to center the country’s energies and resources toward those in America who need help the most. We will see a resurgence of the middle-class, not as an end in itself, but as the primary avenue toward uplifting the masses of the country’s poor. The President will challenge the rich and the middle-class to open their hearts to make room for those people who find themselves locked out, left behind, and languishing in economic and social sectors. President Obama’s re-election will lift the spirit of the poor across the country. They will greatly benefit from the good news of his return to the leadership of the country and the free world, and from the significant changes that his policies engender for the lives of millions across a wide socio-economic spectrum.
An election of Mitt Romney to the nation’s highest elected office will cause a rise in social unrest in urban areas across the country, and growing acts of terrorism aimed at the U.S. in the world. Simply, millions will release their pent-up anger and frustrations. Many disillusioned souls will act-out their sense of hopelessness, and their angst against a prejudiced and racist America who once again failed to do the moral and political right thing. African Americans will entrench and push back in their activism. A refreshing commitment of the masses to the historic struggles of African-descended people will refocus on the self-determination and empowerment of black people and communities. In reaction to the military-type solutions of Romney for resolving national conflicts on the world front, a radical Islam will thrust itself to the forefront and make as many terror-laden statements as possible. World de-stabilization will grow.
Finally, whomever the country elects as President, the current Christian theological debate will focus on the true meaning or workability of what is genuine “Evangelicalism.” The 2012 electoral politics will thrust into the forefront of the discussion those who are “Evangelicals” of African-descent. The historical and cultural context of believers and churches in the black experience — in both the U.S. and the African Diaspora — will give rise to the most potent definition of historic and genuinely contextualized Christ-centered orthodox or “Evangelical” faith, and to true expressions of its social, economic, and political way of life. Jesus the Gospelizer — the bearer of Good News for the poor — will center this authentic definition. Electoral politics in the U.S. will be the impetus for Black Evangelicalism to come of age and offer leadership in these theologically troubling times.
Rev. Dr. Walter A. McCray is a Chicago-based writer, a leader in Black evangelicalism, and president of the National Black Evangelical Association. His latest book is Pro-Black, Pro-Christ, Pro-Cross: African-descended Evangelical Identity (Black Light Fellowship, 2012). He defines Black Evangelical identity along cultural and theological lines. His statement above reflects his personal views.
Education Is the Key
By Valerie Elverton Dixon
I believe that President Obama will be re-elected. I believe that he will follow through on his plan to strengthen public education and to open doors of opportunity for more people to have access to higher education and/or job training. When I was a girl, I was taught: “Education is the key.” In my life, that has proved to be true.
Education is the key, not only to a good job, but also to self-knowledge. Education is the key to human moral evolution and to human freedom. I think that President Obama will continue to encourage schools to experiment with curriculum, different pedagogical models and teacher and parental training that will inspire students to love learning. Once students understand that the ultimate subject of their education is their own lives, their own questions, their own striving to identify and to perfect the unique gift they have to give to the world, they will have a made up mind to study. And nothing is more powerful in any field of endeavor than a made up mind.
I expect President Obama to keep his promise to rebuild America. He has said that he will use half the savings from the wars we are no longer fighting to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, including building schools. I hope that he will expand this to enter into public/ private partnerships to rebuild the waste cities, towns and villages in America. This can provide jobs and be the opportunity to exercise an ethics of aesthetics that will make communities beautiful.
If Mitt Romney is elected president, it is hard to know exactly what he will do since he is very often on all sides of all issues. However, I think we can count on him to appoint right-wing Supreme Court justices, to put public education on a glide-path to privatization, and cut taxes for the rich, leaving nothing for community revitalization.
So, I am hopeful that President Obama will win because, in my opinion, this will be the best thing for the nation and for the world.
Valerie Elverton Dixon, Ph.D. is an independent scholar and founder of JustPeaceTheory.com. She is a regular contributor to God’s Politics, The Washington Post On Faith, and Tikkun Daily. Her forthcoming book is Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love and the Public Conversation.
The Rise of Jim Crow Jr.
By Randy Woodley
Since the election of President Barack Obama, we have seen a new wave of racism rise across our nation. The kind of racism expressed over the past four years is different than the more overt, socialized Jim Crow era racism. Today, it is unpopular to be called a racist so racism has become more polite, being couched in political jargon, “dog whistles,” voter suppression and public policy aimed at the least of these in society. Meet Jim Crow Jr. The most overt hatred over the past four years has been directed at President Obama himself. Regardless of which candidate is elected, what I think we can clearly see is that there is a desire on the part of some, to “go back,” ushering in another era of racism that could become socialized and institutionalized in America. Jim Crow Jr. is knocking on America’s door.
An election favoring Mitt Romney is inextricably intertwined in this rising form of racism. I believe a Romney presidency will open wide the door to a new form of Jim Crow directed at non-White citizens of the United States. Regardless of whether or not Governor Romney were to return to a more moderate form of politics, or even disassociates himself with the radical right he aligned himself with to get this far, he is their candidate. They have used him as much as he used them. With the re-election of President Obama we do not know whether or not Jim Crow Jr. will subside but it is likely, especially if there is more democratic control in the House and Senate, that it will take the “wind out of the sails” of socialized racism. Obama is one of the most intelligent Presidents in American history. His story is truly an American story in which all Americans should take pride. If the racist rhetoric and proposed policies should subside during the President’s second term, perhaps more Americans will be able to see him in a better light. There will always be racist among us, but in the past four years they have captured many who would not normally fall in their line. If Obama is elected, perhaps more of those White Americans who have been swept away in the “flurry” will be able to claim President Obama as their President
Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is Distinguished Associate Professor of Faith and Culture, and Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies at George Fox Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee and author of the new book Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision (Eerdmans). Randy blogs at The Huffington Post, Ethnic Space and Faith, Emergent Village Voice and Sojourners.
Our Politics Are Soulless
By Larycia A. Hawkins
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you can expect the worst angels of our nature if Barack Obama reclaims the White House. And rather ruefully, I must inform you that you can expect a similar result if Mitt Romney wins. Presidential politics are a soulless affair.
Here’s what you can expect if you believe President Obama’s experiences of four years past can usher in “an economy built to last”: You should brace yourself for intensified partisan rancor as Congress doubles down on its intransigence given the loss of the presidency in a closely divided race where voter nullification may very well be the feeling people are left with if the popular vote winner in the national election loses in the electoral college. The debt ceiling debate will seem like a piece of cake compared to the looming deficit reduction debate in the next Congress. The middle class Obama purports to champion will be lost in the vitriolic mayhem of civilized debate.
You should prepare yourself for more insidious symbolic racism in the form of racialized rhetoric and images, including, but not limited to “shuck and jive” metaphors of the Commander in Chief, monkey cartoons and evolutionary caricatures of the obviously black President, an unambiguous noose lynching the hope and change President of a country where lynching signified that citizenship and hope and democracy were reserved for whites only, and the racialization of ostensibly race-neutral policies via claims that healthcare is merely reparations from the welfare president.
Here’s what you can expect if you believe Mitt Romney’s the man to “restore America” with his five-point plan: You should reread 1984 to refresh your memory as to the meaning of doublespeak, since the (presumptive) Democratic minority in Congress will strenuously and unanimously oppose all the policies of the newly minted Presidential agenda — even those policies that they agree with — in the name of representation and e pluribus unum. Never mind that a few short years ago, they castigated Republicans for denying a recently enthroned President Obama the same presidential courtesy.
You should prepare yourself for religious wars. While the first freedom of the Bill of Rights is religious freedom — the free exercise clause enabling individuals to choose religion and the establishment clause barring the state from imposition of an official religion, there will be a resurgence of religious intolerance surrounding Romney’s Mormonism. If you think that Romney’s nomination as the Republican candidate for the general election signifies that we are past all that Mormon-bashing, think again. Just as Obama has been characterized by the right as Muslim and foreign-born, expect the left to frame Romney in a similarly disdainful fashion on the basis of his faith. One need only recall recent caricatures of the Christian Right as seeking to engender an American theocracy or the prevalence of media stereotypes which wrongfully equate evangelicals with fundamentalists and which equate both evangelicals and fundamentalists with what are often depicted as solipsist and reactionary cultural practices — homeschooling and having thousands of children. Musicals, movies, and musicians that ostensibly normalize Mormons must be held in tandem with reality shows that portray Mormon men as misogynists and polygamists and Mormon women as oppressed and helpless. Religious intolerance will rear its ugly head if Mitt is the man.
Why, you may ask, is a political science professor avoiding a discussion of the issues that will emerge under an Obama or Romney regime? For one simple reason — the soulless politics of our day incentivizes hateful race baiting and religious bashing rather than substantive policymaking. Yes, bills do get passed under divided government — even landmark policies like the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. But partisan rancor persists amid a seemingly soulless brood of politicians who, on the surface, have more in common than in difference. Rancor proliferates and policymaking is a casualty of the political battle.
While I regrettably expect little of the political context to change come January 2013, I submit that knowing is half the battle. To be shrewd as snakes, we should expect more of the same old politics. To be innocent as doves, we should both demand and expect change from politicians and pundits, especially those who claim to be cross-bearers. Rather than engaging in soulless rhetoric and tasteless tactics, rather than applauding and patronizing the ideologues and elites who propagate misinformation about Mormons and make racist remarks about the first black President, we should demand enemy-loving politics that produces justice-laden policies.
If soulless politics continues, you should look in the mirror. If substantive politics fail to protect the weak and vulnerable, the rocks will cry out.
Dr. Larycia A. Hawkins is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton College. She is a co-editor of the book Religion and American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Her research includes projects exploring black theology and its relationship to political rhetoric and black political agendas, like those of the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP. Prior to academia, she worked in state government administering federal programs, including the Social Security Disability program and the Community Development Block Grant.
The Church Must Step Up
By Wil LaVeist
If President Obama is re-elected, but the split Congress (Republicans controlling the House, Democrats controlling the Senate) remains, we can count on more of the same gridlock. Republicans will focus on winning seats in the 2014 mid-term election and holding out to win the presidency in 2016. Democrats will do the same. If Mitt Romney wins, but has a split Congress, he’ll face a similar challenge for similar reasons. If either winner gets a Congress that is on their side, they will have a better chance of pushing their agendas. But wait — “the filibuster” looms. Only a drastic threat (war, economic collapse, etc.) would likely shake either party to compromise.
Either way, churches in predominantly black communities should step into the moral gap to inspire people to pursue righteousness, fairness and grace towards others in their own lives — to get their own houses in moral order. We should spark a “moral civic revival” — rallying people to shine their lights on the deepening tragic immoral disparities (health, economics, housing, education, incarceration rates) that exist in predominantly black communities across the nation. Leading by example with solutions, we should urge fellow Christians and Americans of all persuasions to see these growing disparities (rooted in the sin or racism) as a national crisis that endangers all of us. We should demand accountability from elected officials, regardless of party affiliation. Perhaps in this new climate, more public servants will emerge in the spirit of Joseph — willing to serve not their own narrow self-interests, but all of the nation’s people regardless of race, ethnicity or faith. We know the God who lives in us maintains control no matter who lives in the White House. We must act on what we know.
Wil LaVeist is an award-winning journalist, professional speaker, and author of Fired Up: 4 Steps to Overcoming a Crisis, Including Unemployment. Contact him at www.WILLAVEIST.com, and listen to The Wil LaVeist Show Wednesdays at Noon to 1 p.m. on 88.1 WHOV in Hampton, Virginia.
Okay, that’s them. Now it’s your turn. Share your predictions below.
Nyack College students say the number one benefit of attending Nyack is the preparation they receive to work in diverse environments. (Photo courtesy of Nyack College.)
In the years since Nyack College in Nyack, New York, shared the 2001 Council for Christian Colleges & Universities Racial Harmony Award with another college, the school has become so thoroughly immersed in racial and ethnic integration that it no longer applies to be considered for the honor, its president Michael Scales and provost David Turk told UrbanFaith on a recent visit to the campus.
“We used to submit the stuff all the time, but we decided we would just stop because our communication is on a different level. They’re talking about certain things they’re doing; we’re talking about a whole different culture,” said Turk.
“If you look back over all those awards—I was even chair for a little while—they’re giving awards for prescriptions,” said Scales.
For Nyack, “intentional diversity” is one of the school’s five core values.
“We think all these are what [founder] A.B. Simpson taught back when we first started this. So, we tried to get back to what is in our own DNA,” said Scales.
At its main campus, Nyack is 37 percent White, 24 percent Black, 14-15 percent Asian, and the rest mixed-race and other ethnicities, Scales said. At its satellite campus in Manhattan, the student body is 46 percent Black, 11 percent Asian, 28 percent Latino, and 6 percent White. There is also a high level of age and denominational diversity, Scales said, with many adult learners attending the city campus.
Diversity Mavericks: Nyack President Michael Scales and Provost David Turk. (Photo courtesy of Explorations Media L.L.C.)
The push toward integration was intentional, said Turk, who has been teaching at Nyack
since 1978. During the 1980s and 90s, the school went through “rough periods” and had difficulty retaining faculty, he said. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise when the decision was made to innovate in the late 1990s.
“We then had the luxury to develop some things in an entrepreneurial way that other schools with an entrenched faculty group just did not have. One of those ways was diversifying,” said Turk.
Scales described Nyack’s efforts as a “noble experiment,” but said it is one that hasn’t been without costs. The average building on Nyack’s main campus is 76 years old, he said, and the school has had trouble attracting “monied” White investors to update facilities.
“I think it’s changing,” said Scales. “For the first time, we have some people coming around the table who really can be transformative agents.”
Alumni are divided, said Turk. “Some will say this is the best and the greatest thing, and some will just be blunt and say, ‘Well David, I’m not going to send my daughter to your school. She might date a Black guy.’”
In surveys, students say the number one benefit of attending Nyack is the preparation they receive to work in diverse environments, Turk said.
“The truth is that the people who are going to be leading this country are the students who come to places like this,” said Scales.
Creating Sustainable Change
In order to create sustainable change, faith-based institutions must link to their history, their mission, and to biblical principles, George Fox University’s dean of transitions and inclusion Joel Perez told UrbanFaith when he was interviewed for our previous article about the challenges students of color face at Christian colleges. (Perez researched diversity at CCCU campuses for his doctoral dissertation.)
Joel Perez: 'Sustainable change must be linked to history, mission, and biblical principles.'
“Once you anchor [diversity] in those things, then it’s harder for an institution, when it does change leadership, for someone new to come in and say it’s not going to be a focus or we’re not going to talk about it anymore,” said Perez. “If schools don’t do that initially, or don’t go back and make those connections, I think it’s easier for a school to sort of lose its way in doing the work.”
UrbanFaith asked Turk if Nyack’s proximity to New York City gives it an advantage in attracting more faculty of color who may be reluctant to move to the rural settings where many Christian colleges are located. He rejects the common argument that geography is a deterrent to pursuing diversity, saying faculty of color want to serve and would be willing to go to rural campuses. His work with Nyack’s Manhattan campus taught him that finding qualified people is as easy as reaching out to their church networks. Now when peers tell him they can’t find non-white faculty, he asks if they’ve even tried those networks.
“I just don’t buy the argument,” said Turk.
James Steen: 'HBU's multi-racial campus is refreshing.'
At Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas, where the student body is only one-third White, diversity is unintentional, said James Steen, its vice president of enrollment management. Instead it simply reflects the southwest Houston demographic. Forty percent of the student body lives within a 10 mile radius of the campus, he said.
“We’re not striving or working to try to attract more diversity. It’s just who we are and it’s just part of the culture. So, it’s a refreshing thing to be a part of,” said Steen, who previously worked at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where, he says, the student body is 70 percent White.
Twenty-eight percent of Houston Baptist’s student body is Hispanic, 29 percent is White, 19 percent is African American, 14 percent is Asian, and 6 percent is multi-racial, Steen said. The faculty, however, is mostly White, but more diverse than Baylor’s.
Because Houston Baptist has had a highly diverse student body for so long, the school has “grown comfortable” with its diversity, director of student life Whittington C. Goodwin said.
“Now we’re going towards really giving each student a way that they can develop academically, socially and spiritually,” said Goodwin, who came to Houston Baptist 18 months ago from predominantly White Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.
Houston Baptist’s diversity not only reflects community demographics, it also reflects the city’s churches, Goodwin said, many of which are “making huge pushes to really integrate those worship services, so it’s not the most segregated hour in America anymore.”
Whit Goodwin: 'Differences make for good spiritual formation opportunities.'
It can be a challenge to clearly define “who your students are” on such a racially integrated campus, said Steen. “What may appeal to one student group is not going to appeal to another student group.” For example one group may prefer a country western dance while another would opt for a hip hop concert.
“We’re cognizant of differences here, but we’re also cognizant of human nature, of what God has called us to be, and all of us living, working, studying, worshiping together makes for a really wonderful educational opportunity, but also a wonderful spiritual formation opportunity,” said Goodwin.
Waiting for the Immigration Law to Catch Up
At Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, the student body is only about 16 percent non-white, its president Randolph Lowry told UrbanFaith, but at one point last year it was the most ethnically diverse campus — religious or secular — in the state of Tennessee.
“The world is a pretty global, cross cultural place. The degree to which the school can reflect that cross-cultural nature, it’s going to be much easier for our students then to go into the world and feel comfortable and be effective,” said Lowry.
Randolph Lowry: 'Educating undocumented immigrants is a calling.'
In addition to a school-wide service requirement that places students in cross-cultural off-campus environments, Lipscomb sponsors Conversations of Significance that bring together ethnic groups for cross-cultural dialogue and the Davidson Group, which pairs community members of different ethnicities for year-long relationship building, Lowry said. The school also admits and financially supports undocumented immigrants.
“We’d like the federal [government] to be more courageous about immigration policy, but until they do that, I think we have to look at what we feel called to do as the Christian community,” said Lowry. “Our board has recognized that Jesus continually responded to those in the world who really were the outcasts. … Some of our students of color fall in that category, and we want to do what we can to respond to their needs.”
Pursuing First-Generation Students
Interracial dialogue is a priority at Lipscomb University. (Photo courtesy of Lipscomb University.)
All the highly diverse schools UrbanFaith talked to have a significant number of first-generation students on their campuses — that is, students who are the first in their families to pursue higher education.
North Park University in Chicago, Illinois, for example, recruits first-generation students as part of its mission, regardless of their race or ethnicity, dean of diversity Terry Lindsay said. Still, 40 percent of incoming freshman were students of color in fall 2011, he said.
Like administrators at other highly diverse schools, Lindsay has heard concern expressed that North Park’s commitment to racial, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity will compromise its academic standards.
“When you intentionally go after first generation college students, they come with their fair share of challenges,” he said. “They don’t know how to seamlessly transition from high school to college. They may … struggle academically with the curriculum. Because we know that, we are very intentional about putting measures and tools in place to make sure all of these students achieve success.”
Scales said there is “a lot of racism” around the issue. When he hears that Nyack is “watering down” academics in favor of diversity, he gives critics an opportunity to reflect on the offensiveness of that perspective and tells them: “We’ve taken that issue off the table.” Additionally, Nyack has pursued every specialized accreditation available for its programs, Scales said, to insure academic rigor.
Terry Lindsay: 'Social justice is key to North Park efforts.'
Like several other schools, North Park offers a program for incoming students to help them navigate the transition to college life. The Compass Scholars program identifies students who are potentially at risk and brings them to campus prior to their first semester, Lindsay said. They are given enrichment activities and academic skill development activities that are designed to help them acclimate.
The school also employs an Early Alert Reporting System that allows faculty to identify students who are at risk in their classes. “An EARS form is done online and that information automatically goes to student development and then they intervene immediately,” said Lindsay.
North Park is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church and its commitment to first-generation students reflects the denomination’s social justice focus, Lindsay said. “Our decision to remain a college that’s committed to urban education, to remain a college that’s committed to our Christian values, and to strengthen our efforts around diversity are all grounded in what the Evangelical Covenant … has always been about,” he said.
“North Park has made great strides, I believe because they have linked [diversity] to their mission,” said Perez.
Reconnecting With a Proud Legacy
Unlike Lipscomb and other Christian colleges that early in their histories adhered to a policy of segregation and barred African Americans from enrolling, Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, prides itself on in its abolitionist history. Wheaton’s new president Philip Ryken told UrbanFaith many would agree that the school’s legacy was “squandered” at times, particularly in the twentieth century, “through a lack of intentionality about racial reconciliation” that he thinks was “pervasive” in the evangelical community.
Ryken has had a lot of conversations with students of color this year about what he calls “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” “Depending on what day it is, I see our situation at Wheaton either as a glass half full or as a glass half empty,” said Ryken. “There’s no doubt that we have a lot of ongoing progress to make, particularly in the openness of our student body as a whole to experiencing other cultures and also making space for the right kinds of open dialogues about race that really lead to deeper understanding.”
Philip Ryken: 'Wheaton's proud legacy was sometimes squandered.'
One of the positives Ryken sees is the 461 students of color among the 3,000 currently on campus. When he was a Wheaton student in the 1980s, there were less than 100, he said. Forty-nine percent of these students are Asian, 18 percent are African American, and 21 percent are Hispanic, Ryken said, and many of them serve in positions of leadership on campus.
“They’re really thriving in the use of their gifts on campus. They’re not marginalized, but really flourishing,” said Ryken.
Among the ongoing challenges he sees is that “nearly all” students of color at Wheaton say other students and/or faculty have “made assumptions about them” or “made comments that were hurtful in ways that maybe even the person who said it didn’t understand.” Some students are “ready for a dialogue about ethnicity, race, culture, and the gospel,” he said, while others are “indifferent.”
The residence life staff at Wheaton is intentionally being trained to address issues of ethnicity, Ryken said, and talks are underway about designating one of Wheaton’s residence houses as an intentionally diverse living community. Additionally, a faculty development day may be set aside next year to hear from students of color as part of a proactive approach to fostering healthy dialogue about race in Wheaton’s classrooms. Although there has been a long-standing and comprehensive diversity requirement for all of Wheaton’s courses, Ryken said the faculty recognizes its need to grow in “cross-cultural competency.”
When people ask Ryken why Wheaton is re-prioritizing race, he says the most important thing to tell them is, “because this is what Scripture teaches.” But, he said, it also helps to be able to say, “because this is the school that we were founded to be.”
Reaching for the Future
Glen Kinoshita: 'Students need to be engaged on multiple levels.'
For our previous article, Glen Kinoshita, director of multi-ethnic programs and development at Biola University in La Mirada, California, told us that it can be challenging for students to shift their frame of reference, but if it is done with regularity and in community, they can grow in their “ethnic identity development.”
This takes time, Kinoshita said, and students need to be engaged on multiple levels. Individual reflection, reading articles and books, watching documentary films, and getting plugged into a larger group dialogue to gain perspective and build relationships are among the activities he suggests. Kinoshita even formed Multi Ethnic Film Productions at Biola to stimulate “thought, dialogue, and change within Christian higher education.”
While these and other Christian college leaders press ahead in embracing a multi-racial future, friends at secular institutions tell Joel Perez that the diversity conversation is changing. Instead of being driven by a Black-White binary, it has become much more nuanced. Religious diversity, multi-ethnicity, and sexual orientation are increasingly at the forefront of the discussion. Some of the schools we’ve highlighted here are already grappling with these issues. Others have only just begun.
“Bittersweet” is how Joshua Canada describes his memories of working to improve the experience of students of color at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, when he was a student there.
As vice president of the Multiethnic Student Association at Taylor, Canada successfully petitioned the school to restructure its ethnic recruiter position and to re-establish its director of multiethnic student services position. He was also an original member of Taylor Black Men, a student group that provided support for young men who didn’t necessarily feel comfortable discussing the unique challenges they faced with White classmates.
“I was really excited that I was able to do that, but there’s also this sadness that I have now because, although I felt like it was important, it painted a lot of my senior year,” said Canada, who occasionally writes for UrbanFaith.
He was compelled to act, he said, because he feared that no one else would if he didn’t. “I was blessed enough that I had a lot of coping skills,” he explained. “I could ‘code switch,’ and sometimes get in that middle world, where I could deal with both cultures, but there were several students who couldn’t.”
It is those students that concern a number of professionals who work at Christian colleges around the nation, and especially those affiliated with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. The CCCU, an international association of Christian institutions of higher education, seeks to provide resources and support for the students, faculty, and administrations of its member schools. Assisting students of color with their often difficult transition into the culture of predominately White Christian campuses has become one of its chief missions during its 36 years of existence.
Slow but Steady Progress
Twelve years ago the CCCU established a Racial Harmony Award to celebrate the achievements of its member institutions in the areas of “diversity, racial harmony, and reconciliation.”
In 2001, the organization’s board affirmed its commitment. “If we do not bring the issues of racial-ethnic reconciliation and multi-ethnicity into the mainstream of Christian higher education, our campuses will always stay on the outside fringes,” remarked Sam Barkat, former board member and provost of Nyack College in Nyack, New York.
CCCU schools have made “steady gains” since then, according to a report co-authored by Robert Reyes, research director at Goshen College’s Center for Intercultural Teaching and Learning and a member of CCCU’s Commission for Advancing Intercultural Competencies.
Robert Reyes: "We're supposed to be unified as Christians."
Reyes and his colleagues found that overall percentage of students of color increased from 16.6 percent to 19.9 percent at CCCU schools between 2003 and 2009 and graduation rates for these students also increased, from 14.8 percent to 17 percent, which still only adds up to a tiny fraction of all students at CCCU’s 115 North American affiliate schools.
According to Reyes, CCCU has a new research director and is developing a proactive research agenda related to these issues. This kind of research “creates a certain level of anxiety,” he said, because it categorizes people and theoretically separates us when we’re supposed to be unified as Christians. “I think it’s a misunderstanding of what the unity of the body is, and what unity means in the Christian faith,” said Reyes.
For those, like Reyes and Canada, who are engaged in diversity work on CCCU campuses, the task can feel like slogging through a murky swamp. UrbanFaith talked to current and former diversity workers at nine CCCU schools about their efforts and experiences. We repeatedly heard that students of color face unique challenges on these campuses and that CCCU schools are not always prepared, or willing, to deal with them. We also heard about successes and how challenging they can be.
The Problem — a Whole Different God
Multiple sources said students of color at Christian colleges are routinely harassed with racially insensitive jokes and comments by members of their campus communities, for example, and that this harassment is sometimes not taken seriously enough by school administrators.
When racism isn’t overt, students often feel like they won’t be accepted by their school communities unless they suppress their ethnic identities. Many students feel profoundly lonely on majority-White CCCU campuses, our sources said.
Dante Upshaw, for example, has been both a student and a staff member at evangelical schools. He recalled the challenge that worship presented when he was a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
“For the average White student, it’s an easy crossover. … It’s kind of this big youth group. But for the Black student, the Hispanic student, this is a whole different God,” said Upshaw.
He was unfamiliar with the songs that were sung in chapel, for example, and found himself in conversations about what constitutes godly worship. “I was a young person having to articulate and defend. That’s a lot of pressure for a freshman,” said Upshaw.
Monica Smith: "We haven't gone far enough."
Monica Smith has seen the same phenomenon played out on her school’s campus. As assistant to the provost for multicultural concerns at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, she said students of color once complained to her about being judged for skipping chapel services that felt culturally foreign to them. They were told they should be able to worship no matter what kind of music or speaker was up front. “The retort was, ‘You’re right, so why can’t it sound like what I’m used to?’” said Smith, who also teaches courses in social work.
Smith and her colleagues have identified four specific areas of challenge that confront students of color at Eastern: financial, academic, social, and spiritual. “If students are struggling in those areas, they really can’t pay attention in the classroom,” said Smith.
The university is making headway, but it’s slow, she said. “As much as we have done administratively and in the academic arena, I still don’t know that our university’s administration has gone far enough with this.”
Institutional Challenges — Like Turning the Titanic
Upshaw served as a minority recruiting officer and assistant director of the office of multi-cultural development at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, in the early 2000s. He said the number of non-White students who were in pain over their experience at the school would have been as big as his admissions file.
He recalled leaving school one day to commute home to Chicago when he saw a student of color sitting on the stairs “like a lonely puppy.” Upshaw read the student’s demeanor as saying, “You about to leave me here, man? You’re actually going to leave and go to your home?”
Dante Upshaw: "Too many students felt alone."
“There were just too many students like that, where they felt so alone on this beautiful, immaculate campus with great food service and great athletics,” Upshaw said. “Those were some hard years.”
In response to the need he saw, Upshaw founded Global Urban Perspectives, a multiethnic student group devoted to urban issues. He believes it was successful in part because it helped foster healthy relationships.
“The fact that we were together in a safe setting where we were given space to be ourselves, I think that really struck a chord with many of the students,” he said.
“It’s a wealthy system, it’s an established system, it’s a strong historic system, and it’s a very Christian religious system,” said Upshaw of the institutional challenges he faced at Wheaton. “Changing a system like that would be akin to turning the Titanic … It is going to take a long time, and it’s going to be real slow.”
Even so, Upshaw said he saw “the ship” turn quickly when influential individuals decided to act. Too often, though, he saw inaction born of the fear of alienating potential donors. Upshaw left the school, in part, because he was frustrated with the administration’s commitment to a broadly applied quota system that he felt undermined his efforts to recruit more students of color.
Additive and Subtractive Approaches
Although Joshua Canada is ambivalent about his experience at Taylor University, he returned there for graduate school and now serves as an adviser to the Black Student Union at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, where he is also a residence director. He said not all students of color struggle with the racial dynamics on their campuses and some students rarely do.
“In their ethnic development, they’re not dealing with this tension, or this is what they’ve done their whole life and they know how to do this,” said Canada.
Joshua Canada: "To be successful, our vision of being multicultural must be transformative."
He described two approaches to multiculturalism, one that is additive and one that is subtractive. With the additive approach, elements of non-European culture are added to the core culture, he said, and with the subtractive approach, people of color drop elements of their culture to assimilate into the majority culture.
“Students feel it, if it’s additive,” Canada said. “We did Black History Month. We did Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s a nice gesture, but people realize it isn’t who we are.”
“To really be successful, we have to come to a place where our vision of being multicultural is more transformative and then it really does change aspects of the institution. It really does change the big-picture experience, and not in a way that is unfaithful to the history of the institution, but that maybe acknowledges gaps.”
George Yancey is a University of North Texas sociologist and the author of numerous books, including Neither Jew nor Greek: Exploring Issues of Racial Diversity on Protestant College Campuses. (Canada’s UrbanFaith interview with Yancey prompted us to investigate the issue further.) According to Yancey, the task of student retention at Christian colleges is complicated by the evangelical community’s habitual conflation of faith and culture.
“There’s an issue in retaining students of color in higher education in general,” he told UrbanFaith, “but I think Christian College campuses have even more of a challenge because of some of the dynamics that are there. A lot of times, the way the faith is practiced is racialized. People don’t always realize it.”
It wasn’t only African Americans, however, who recounted stories about the challenges students of color face at CCCU institutions. Jon Purple is dean for student life programs at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. He recalls the mother of an incoming student crying when she dropped her young Black son off at the rural Ohio campus, and not just because he was leaving home.
“She was in tears and was afraid to leave her son here, because of very real fears that some good-ol’ White boys might accost her son,” said Purple.
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George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, seems like an unlikely place for a racial incident: The small Christian college was founded by Quakers, who were active in the abolitionist movement before the Civil War and helped slaves escape along the Underground Railroad.
But last year, on Sept. 23, a university employee found a life-sized cardboard cutout of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama hanging from a tree on campus, with a sign attached to it that read: “Act Six reject.” The phrase was a reference to a program by George Fox and Portland Central Young Life that offers full scholarships and leadership training to area high school students. Most, but not all, of the recipients are from minority groups.