Adventist campuses respond to racism and concerns about diversity.
Published on: 08-26-2020
The conversation about systemic racism and the violence seen on television and Internet news feeds has created a climate in which frank discussions about race are not only desirable, but essential. In recent years, Adventist universities have implemented forums in which these and other issues have been addressed. Current events have merely accelerated the process. Adventist Review reached out to several Adventist campuses, and we share some of their responses.—Editors.
Andrews University (AU) is committed to the long-term work of becoming an anti-racist institution. Those words, shared by AU president Andrea Luxton on June 19, 2020, reemphasized the university’s commitment to corporate and intentional action to combat racism.
One of the many ways that Andrews is pursuing this work is through the establishment of its Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center. The TRHT initiative was developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and Andrews University is one of 25 campus hosts across the country. Andrews is currently the only Christian university to be a part of this powerful initiative to fully claim and reclaim our spiritual narrative to foster truth telling, healing, and global transformation.
The Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, as well as Spectrum Health Lakeland (our largest community health-care provider), are partners in this endeavor, enabling us to expand our reach and impact into Adventist churches throughout the union conference, as well as to all the communities that surround the Berrien Springs campus.
More information about this TRHT Campus Center action plan, as well as an extensive list of anti-racism resources, can be found on our diversity website(Andrews.edu/diversity/trht_campus_center_overview.pdf). The final touches are being put on a formal university policy statement on anti-racism, discrimination, and harassment, which will also include an online reporting tool for bias incidents that will be evaluated by an Andrews University Bias Incident Response Team.
Burman University has become known for its rich diversity. It is this diversity that has, in part, encouraged the creation of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee in 2017. Since the establishment of the EDI Committee, Burman University has been making steady progress toward becoming a more inclusive and equitable campus community.
Part of this progressive approach included the appointment of Kevin Burrell, religious studies professor, to serve as special assistant to the president for diversity in 2019. Since then, opportunities for dialogues on race, equity, and inclusion have been intentionally created and mediated by Burrell and the EDI team members. These include collegiate worship services dedicated to issues of EDI each semester; more focused Black History Month programming; and the creation of the Annual Diversity Weekend—an event that aims to celebrate diversity, while at the same time tackling some of the most difficult issues surrounding this topic.
As it relates specifically to the current social unrest, Burman University will ensure the following:
The creation of “safe” spaces for continued conversations on race and equality.
Opportunities for students to engage directly with the university president and the members of the EDI Committee.
Diversity sensitivity training for faculty and staff at the Faculty Colloquium and, subsequently, in order to foster understanding regarding the recent racial tensions.
Ensuring that a counselor/counselors of minority background is/are available to provide support to students in light of the ongoing social unrest.
Burman University aims to become an inclusive community in which the needs of all students are proactively addressed, and where diversity is central to its vision and identity.
In the wake of George Floyd’s unnecessary and senseless death, Oakwood University and the Oakwood community will continue to be a center of empowerment and witness to the lives and work of a generation of student standard bearers; students who will, in the words of Jesus, love “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40).*
The faith that has guided Oakwood University since 1896, and the cultural legacy handed to the school as a Historically Black College and University, will continue to produce generations of Black attorneys, physicians, social workers, dentists, teachers, and media and business professionals who will combat the ills perpetuated by systems of oppression. Oakwood will remain focused on intellectual and moral development.
“The least of these” will be able to financially access an Oakwood education, so that from the blood-soaked sod of this former slave plantation, a new generation of moral activists will be launched. Great thinkers will leave Oakwood not to simply make a dollar, but to make a difference. All of the George Floyds and Breanna Taylors of the past 400 years deserve this commitment from the institution. Moral passivity is not an option.
To the parents who entrust their treasure to Oakwood University, be assured that the impactful work with your young people has only just begun. To the administrators, faculty, staff, and alumni of Oakwood University, we commend you for standing strong on behalf of the ministry of justice on the school campus.
Finally, to the students of Oakwood University: you are the generation that will pick up the torch handed to you by the pioneers of civil justice. Those who lead and serve at Oakwood will facilitate your indispensable work and witness. Let no one tell you that the work of “standing for the right, though the heavens fall” is incompatible with the life of faith. Those voices, however sincere, are misguided, because “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8).
Southern Adventist University
Southern Adventist University (SAU) embraces the biblical perspective on diversity. A united campus family committed to living out the gospel of God’s ideal community will love and recognize His inestimable value for every human being. Because this work is important, Southern’s five-year strategic plan includes a goal to enhance positive interpersonal relationships through education and dialogue regarding diversity. In order to prioritize areas of improvement and track progress, Southern will conduct campus-climate surveys, which will create a process to analyze data and improve accountability.
Stephanie Guster began serving as senior adviser for racial diversity last year and will continue leading in this area. Her responsibilities include regularly meeting with students and employees to listen to their experiences; coordinating with student leaders—particularly those leading cultural student organizations on campus—regarding how Southern can best support them and their efforts; responding to grievances related to diversity; advising administrators regarding race-related issues and policies; leading the campus Diversity Committee; guiding the university’s monthly employee race dialogues; and continually developing new initiatives. Southern has more than a dozen new diversity initiatives in progress, including the development of a graduate fellowship focused on racial unity and anti-racism.
We acknowledge that only God can transform human hearts. Because of this, Southern will have a renewed emphasis on prayer, providing opportunities for students and employees to unite daily through prayer and public expression. All students and employees will be encouraged to sign the pledge found at leadpledge.org, committing, among other things, “to do my part to fulfill Jesus’ prayer ‘that they all may be one,’ trusting Him to weave ‘every nation, kindred, tongue and people’ into a beautiful tapestry of love.”
In addition to continuing our race dialogues once a month, Southern is introducing training for all employees. A session for all faculty and staff will continue with training for university leaders in October. Students will also be invited to participate in weekly conversations addressing race and other relevant topics from a biblical perspective.
Recognizing that students have a voice and a desire to contribute to conversations regarding issues that concern them culturally, politically, and spiritually, Southern is developing a policy addressing public expression, protest, and freedom of expression.
Southwestern Adventist University
Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU) is proud to be a minority-serving institution, engaging students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds with respect. After the horrific racial injustices earlier this year, SWAU held a march in solidarity to celebrate the diversity that is on our campus and to encourage kindness, treating people as Jesus did. Over the summer a committee comprising a diverse group of faculty and staff has provided recommendations that will be incorporated into the fabric of the university beginning this fall. A Diversity and Inclusion Committee has been created to strengthen diversity programming. To ensure that diversity and inclusion are championed on campus, this committee will facilitate training, hold town hall meetings, provide service projects to underserved populations, and recommend changes in curriculum. Southwestern Adventist University is deeply committed to loving God and loving our students as we do ourselves. Every student and employee is a child of God, and each will be treated accordingly.
Walla Walla University
The Walla Walla University (WWU) mission statement affirms that “every person is created in the image of God as a being of inestimable value and worth.” WWU does not tolerate racism, and university policies and procedures prohibit disparate and unfair treatment of any group or individual. Through its Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the university seeks to promote learning and working environments that are free of discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, ability, or veteran status and with a Christ-like spirit to encourage understanding and respect for differences in culture, ability, and thinking patterns.
More than a decade ago, WWU established the role of chief diversity officer called assistant to the president for diversity. This position reports directly to the WWU president and is a member of the president’s cabinet. The position is currently held by Pedrito Maynard-Reid, who leads the WWU Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the important work of supporting equality at the university.
These efforts are outlined in the WWU Our Commitment to Diversity plan, which notes eight areas of diversity focus that include support for diversity education and training for students, faculty, and staff; enhancements to recruiting to attract diverse students, faculty, and staff; regular diversity conversations and engagement with stakeholders; and assessment and annual reporting through a diversity scorecard.
Maynard-Reid also oversees the work of the WWU Diversity Council, which meets regularly to provide guidance and to help organize annual events, including Martin Luther King, Jr., CommUnity, Peacekeeping Week, and celebrations for Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month. The council works to recruit and nurture minority students, faculty, and staff, and meets with students to improve diversity in student leadership and activities. In addition to concerns surrounding racial diversity, the council also considers gender, socioeconomic status, family, education, age, and ability/disability diversity.
This robust foundation of commitment to diversity has placed WWU in a strong position to address current concerns about racial injustice in the United States. Since March, the WWU Office of Diversity and Inclusion has concentrated on the following areas of focus:
Assist WWU students, faculty, staff, and the local community by supporting conversations and providing a safe environment that nurtures diversity.
Provide education and cultural-intelligence training for the WWU Board of Trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, and students.
Lead in the North American Division to combat racism.
* All Bible texts are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright ã 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.