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Diversity Matters: Race, Ethnicity, & the Future of Christian Higher Education

Karen A. Longman (Editor)
Published by Abilene Christian University Press in 2017

Diversity Matters is an important book—timely, sensitive, honest, challenging, yet hope-filled. The title Diversity Matters can be read as a rallying cry (subject-verb statement) and (as an adjective-noun phrase) as descriptions of how different schools and individuals have wrestled with racial, ethnic, and gender matters of inclusion, especially within PWIs (predominantly white institutions). Professor Longman has gathered some 29 multi-ethnic voices from CCCU settings as co-editors and authors of 25 chapters in five categories: “Campus Case Studies,” “Why We Stayed,” “Voices of Our Friends,” “Curricular/Cocurricular Initiatives,” and “Autoethnographies.” These five sections sum up the book’s organization and its contents about “matters” of painful personal experiences and modest successes regarding diversity at several schools. Each chapter’s authors speak personally about why diversity matters in Christian higher education and about everyday difficult diversity matters under the umbrella of Christ’s love. The chapters also include “For Discussion” questions. This book is intended to be read by current campus administrators, faculty, and scholars, or by those who may aspire to fill any one of these leadership positions, especially against all sociological odds, or despite institutionalized micro-/macro-aggressions, or, simply, at God’s persistent calling. Diversity Matters relates all these matters in stories, reflections, advice, and faith. As Eastern University professor Kathy-Ann C. Hernandez says to introduce the final “Autoethnographical” section,

Each of us has committed to stepping out from behind the data to make ourselves visible … to give readers of this volume a close-up view of our lived experiences as minorities positioned in predominantly white institutions … to make known the challenges we face as outsiders within the academy. (289)

While the narratives in the fifth section speak truth most loudly and personally to this reviewer, who has shared many of these same matters, the first four sections describe, often also autobiographically, the what, why, how, and hope “[for] the ways God continues to work amid these learning communities, and the lessons these stories may hold for Christian higher education more broadly” (36). Pete Menjares (Vanguard University) lays out the data, foci, and “a guiding theological framework” (20) of the book as a whole and its intended impact in an initial introductory essay. Then, each section’s lead essay reintroduces and briefly reviews its respective contents. This re-echoing allows the reader to gain more perspective on the many unique voices and approaches within individual chapters. Menjares cites, as do other authors, Nicholas Wolterstorff’s “vision of shalom” as the Christian mission which “seeks to educate students in character and intellect, and … to graduate students who are virtuous, caring, compassionate, and service oriented” (26). The question is whether Christian higher education institutions will reflect this commitment in the core curriculum. Menjares points out the slowly shrinking disparity between “Student Ethnic Diversity in the CCCU” and “Faculty Ethnic Diversity in the CCCU” in Tables 1.1 and 1.2 (29). He looks to a hopeful future in which “[t]he CCCU and its members appear to be uniquely and strategically positioned to fulfill this vision” (28). It all depends on the leaders to whom this book is addressed.

Four CCCU schools serve as case studies on promoting diversity—Nyack College, North Park University, Warner Pacific College, and Greenville University. Leaders from each shared their school’s critical moments when core principles were challenged, strategies made, the status quo on campus and in society confronted, “and when programs to support increasing diversity and to advance their mission were implemented” (34). These stories represent the breadth of the CCCU in terms of very different regional and ethnic settings, size, and backgrounds. While some hows are given, the authors (two presidents, a provost, a COO, themselves diverse ethnically and by gender) focus more on why—“the reason it matters is faith” (36). The subsequent discussion questions are forthright, hardhitting, leader-to-leader: “What is the tipping point for your college to become a diverse community?” (46); “Do you have a plan for hiring diverse faculty and staff?” (77); “What would an ‘all-in’ to diversity and inclusion look like for your institution?”; and “What is your institution’s ‘identity’?” (76). Despite some successes, each writer urges continued striving toward shalom for all through persevering, not quitting, learning in community, all with foundations to be built upon. Those are their final words. There may be no cookiecutter answer for administrator-readers to duplicate and take from these four case studies, but the stories themselves convince this reviewer that the matter and matters of diversity can be and must be done, not simply attempted. “Don’t try, do!” says another voice (266), remembering her own leader’s echoing admonition.

Storied memories, in fact, form the book’s subsequent sections. First are those faculty and administrators who chose to stay in PWIs. Why? Subtitled “Lessons in Resiliency and Leadership from Long-term CCCU Diversity Professionals,” these chapters represent over 140 years of Christian service by self-identified persons of color with a reputation for “implementing positive diversity change” at their respective schools. These authors speak “openly about their faith in connection with their work” (99). They answer the “why?” with many “hows,” if not the big “who”: “who am I?” Glen Kinoshita (Biola University) cites Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation as one of many Christian signposts to connect vocation and personal values “that keeps me grounded to this day” (105). Another Asian-American Christ-follower, Jeanette Hsieh (Trinity International University), refers to her culturally based mindset in Confucianism that respects authority and leans toward social harmony and attention to community to affirm why and how she stayed. She recalls some detestable racist messages on campus and how she worked with other trusted university leaders to defuse the situation and affirm the school’s commitment to diversity. Hsieh speaks of the safety net of “a community of trusted advisers” (119) not just in moments of crisis, but meeting regularly. Similarly, a community of faculty partners can advocate for shared governance, strengthened by weekly prayer gatherings, to build “relational capital”(119). Azusa Pacific University’s Chief Diversity Officer, Kimberly Battle-Walters Denu and Michelle R. Lloyd-Paige of Calvin College speak scripturally and personally of the inevitable battles encountered and the resiliency necessary to stay on at their schools. “God is strong and will use us despite our limitations and imperfections,” says Denu, who recalls her president and boss reminding her, “Sometimes our battles choose us” (130-131). And LloydPaige affirms three practices that helped her: “empowering affirmations, therapeutic spaces, and centering indebtedness” (143). Each conveys community, self-awareness, and faith in a higher power. Lloyd-Paige echoes Denu’s insight that “Diversity work and leadership is about relationship, relationship, relationship” (131). Using a jazz music metaphor, Rodney K. Sisco (Wheaton College) continues the theme of diversity played out in community and of shared responsibility. Cautioning against righteous indignation that goes solo and lacks Christian “artistry,” he hopes for a group work that better “reflects a joyous groove that embodies serving in Christian higher education in terms of both longevity and impact” (154).

Section Three underscores the need for a broad community with chapters by “White Allies Striving to be Aware and Engaged.” The co-editors Ash (Wheaton College) and Jun (Azusa Pacific University) state that “the voices of white people are a necessary part of the solution to racial discord” (189). They review their own research on the continuum scale of awareness and engagement for social justice (160) to introduce these four chapters by “white allies,” best described as confessional and honest and discomforting, yet faithfully hopeful. Again, the follow-up discussion questions show that the book and particularly these chapters are meant for academic professionals who can lead beyond racial and ethnic divides. For example, “When have you witnessed a positive impact of guilt that led to growth and change?” or, “Identify the causes and impacts of ‘White Fragility’ on your campus?” (213).

“[T]he beauty, creativity, and strength” (217) of programming for diversity is addressed in the fourth section. The work of God’s kingdom is complex, messy, and too often without immediate impact. More than one writer uses the giant timber bamboo metaphor: it takes three years from planting to break through the ground. In the meantime, farmers can work the land above with other crops while also watering and feeding the unseen roots below, which by faith and work eventually can grow a foot and a half a day! (219). Listed in these four chapters are some real “how-to” suggestions. They build on the community, partnership, and leadership themes advocated earlier. Again it includes stories and reflections of difficult situations in the lives of institutions and individuals that envision growth and change through new and necessary, yet difficult, initiatives. Yvonne RB-Banks (University of Northwestern, St. Paul) spells out three career-shaping “anchors” that other authors also touch on: mentorship (others prefer “sponsorship”), professional development opportunities, and the CCCU’s commitment to diversity. The authors refer to diversity within spiritual development programs, what administrative strategies to articulate, what can foster an atmosphere of belonging, and how to start conversations about these complex matters. The section concludes with a multi-voiced “Moving from Theory to Practice” chapter with concrete ideas that readers in leadership should find useful: the Quaker value of helping all people “Be Known”; the World’s Got Talent nights with food, music, and educational components; the book Pondering Privilege to help the PWI majority find its role; and SCORR (Student Congress on Racial Reconciliation). The volume also highlights the CCCU’s Multiethnic Leadership Development Institute (M-E LDI) in this section and the ensuing one, an institute which all of the authors of the “Autoethnographies” had attended.

The final section is by diverse leader-authors reflecting on their 2015 M-E LDI experiences and speaking about how they chose or were chosen to participate in “a year-longleadership development program for emerging leaders of color at CCCU institutions” (302). They touch on shared themes of the potholes, barriers, only-ness, and silos that made their personal stories of advancement so difficult and often discomforting to read. One recurrent idea is sponsorship. They frequently cite Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s seminal business-related book, Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor. It treats institutional partnerships and promotion, beyond just a sympathetic ear. The clear message is that we persons of color, especially women, need not struggle alone. But we must be engaged in the community and in the team-oriented how-to’s of the earlier sections to experience the full life that God intends for us and of belonging “because God has led me here” (344). To be sure, the Black/Hispanic/ Asian, immigrant/native-born, female/male intersections may voice separate experiences and have unique answers in the long struggle, as these autoethnographies show. Each category, perhaps, deserves of its own book. They, and we, are not all alike, although we all have felt the sting of working in PWIs. Yet, Messiah College’s Kevin Williams, Jr. sums up this book’s matter and what matters most: “Kindred spirits who want to be supportive can be found in other ethnic-minority groups as well as among white allies” (314). Supportive books and articles, authors, and contributors to the cause of diversity are found in an extensive bibliography which the authors reference in many of the chapters. These resources invite readers, especially leaders, to continue the discussion on these diversity matters and on why diversity matters.

Cite this article
Weishiuan Sandy Chen, “Diversity Matters: Race, Ethnicity, & the Future of Christian Higher Education”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 47:4 , 463-466

Weishiuan Sandy Chen

Azusa Pacific University