Diversity Success Stories

Each month in the ODEI newsletter, we tell stories of faculty, staff, and students who are being encouraged, and sometimes challenged, in the ongoing work of diversity. Here are their stories. If you have a diversity success story to share, email odei@spu.edu.

January 2020

Becky Hughes, Assistant Professor of History, College of Arts and Sciences

How do we help students appreciate our diverse world through the lens of the Christian faith? This question drove many of the curricular changes that we in the History Department are implementing. We identified several ways we could improve our program’s attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but I will focus on one for this column.

We have created a new requirement for History students: “Christian Perspectives on Problems in History.” This category is devoted to understanding Christian perspectives on thorny issues in human history, such as genocide, forced migration, and war. These courses provide students with the opportunity to study evil and to understand why some people might ask if God was absent in these tragedies. In these classes, student reflect upon ideas and systems through the lens of Christian faith and ethics, weighing what people in the past did and how we can learn from them. We practice lament, mourning the victims and the actions of the victimizers. Thus, we affirm the dignity of every human as a child of God. We seek to promote Christian hope in the face of such evil because of the goodness of God and his coming kingdom. Students gain ideas and tools on making wise decisions, and we aim to infuse students with the Christian confidence that their lives and choices matter.

While our new curriculum doesn’t formally launch until next year, we are already offering some of these new courses. We welcome all students to sign up for them!

December 2019

Jordan Grant, Assistant VP for Enrollment Operations and Student Financial Services

Enrollment Operations (EOPS) and Student Financial Services (SFS) staff have come to diversity work from a variety of experiences and understanding. In order to have a shared experience, EOPS and SFS attended three DEI workshops. The workshops were facilitated by Dr. Anu Taranath, a consultant and faculty at the University of Washington. Staff were exposed to new ways to view relationships and experiences while learning foundational terms and their definitions.

Scattered within the workshops, we were encouraged to write personal reflections. Writing in a safe space and naming difficult experiences and/or places for growth was enlightening and healing. Much of this work was grounded in recognizing that everyone comes from different lived experiences. 

After two workshops, the EOPS and SFS Diversity Committee engaged staff in new ways. Staff were provided time to write or create from a prompt on diversity topics, such as first-generation experiences, gender in the workplace, and discovering diverse information sources. Staff who expressed interest went to lunch with another person to build trust and relationship. Each quarter EOPS and SFS gather for a potluck breakfast. A diversity topic is shared during this time, raising awareness and discussion. Each staff person who has not previously attended Diversity 101 will do so. In addition, a best practices guide is being developed.

In the third workshop, staff shared positive feedback on what has been accomplished. Dr. Anu also described a practice of listening to and for the suffering of others. This practice reminds us of a Beatitude: Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy. Blessed is it when we truly hear each other, and share in the suffering one carries, providing kindness, presence, and mercy. Like all things of God, this goodness cannot be contained – it can become beautiful, exponential reciprocal mercy.

November 2019

Sandra Mayo, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

This year, SPU reached several significant milestones that mark progress in our journey toward more fully reflecting the diversity of God’s kingdom.

  • Fifty percent of incoming freshmen and 43% of all undergraduate students are from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.
  • Slightly more than one third (34%) of all undergraduates are first-generation students.
  • With the addition of two new members, 44% of SPU's board of trustees are from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

We can and should celebrate our growing diversity. But, diversity is only one component of the equation; inclusion and equity are the other two. As we see greater representation at all levels of the university, we must also continue to pay attention to how members of our community are experiencing life on campus. For example, while it is important for us to know the percentage of students from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups on campus, it is also important for us to know if students are participating in high impact programs like study abroad, internships, and honors at rates proportional to their representation within our student body.

Recently the Office of Institutional Research, in partnership with the ODEI, developed a data dashboard that visually tracks, analyzes, and displays key metrics and data points to monitor SPU’s progress over time. The dashboard is designed to help us move beyond static demographic data and to assess the extent to which our campus is also inclusive and contributing to equitable outcomes. We look forward to using this data to inform our ongoing work and future goals.

October 2019

Alison Estep, Assistant Vice President of University Communications

University Communications attended a workshop called “Storytelling Strategies for Dismantling Racism” held at the Centilia Cultural Center last spring. This training event was funded by a seed grant from the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. My sense is that each person in our department experienced this training differently, bringing their own lived experiences, viewpoints, and sensitivities. We collectively uncovered more differences among our reactions than I think anyone could have expected. This was a pretty raw type of training event and we all came away with our own reactions.

Speaking for myself, I can say this event had a profound impact. One of the charges of the facilitators to the participants was to adopt an attitude of “deep listening.” For me, someone who has benefited all my life for being white, this deep listening meant setting aside my impulse to be defensive.

The facilitator was tough but I endeavored to shed my rationalizations and just listen and experience the passion of candid sharing and critique. And sometimes this hurt. I don’t like to think of myself as going through life with privilege because of my race. I certainly don’t want to believe that I see race first and someone’s sacred humanity second. I struggle to accept that I am bringing a lens of race to so much of my life. These are humbling and convicting notions.

I am grateful for the chance to step back and listen attentively; to shed my arguments. This journey of becoming more self-aware around race and inequity was helped along for me because of this workshop. Getting uncomfortable – deeply listening to another person’s lived experience – moved me to a place of greater empathy.

June 2019

Jayne Hubbard '19, Director of SPU's Theatre and Music Departments' production of Violet

"Being given the opportunity to perform a script that was intentionally racially inclusive allowed for the telling of a very diverse story.” – Austin Dodd ’21 (Violet’s Father, Ensemble)

“This cast is diverse in a number of ways, and…the powerful story we told would not [have been] possible without each different mind adding their wisdom and heart.” – Kat Carlson ’19 (Violet)

When I first read the full script for Violet, a musical by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley, I knew it was a story SPU needed to hear. The characters were specific, gritty, and diverse. This story of strong-willed Southerners traveling via Greyhound bus in 1964 features a tangible reality unlike anything else in the musical theatre canon.

Violet was special and unlike any piece of theater I’ve been a part of. I wanted to show that intentionality and that love on stage whenever I could. It…made me understand that those different types of love existed in the world of the play, but…also…inside of us and in the space we created for each other.” – Spencer Vigil ’19 (Bus Driver, Radio Singer, Virgil, Ensemble)

Once we got into the process, though, I felt way over my head. As a 22-year-old white woman, how was I to direct a show that featured such serious racism? I reached out to Dr. Mayo for help. She led me to discover that my job was to listen to the actors and designers, and prompt conversations, particularly about the most challenging issues. Dr. Mayo joined the case and crew for a group discussion on how the themes of race play a part in each of our roles. From there, we were able to establish a common language and approach to all our respective fields. The resulting production was powerful for participants and audiences alike.

May 2019

Charity Osborn, Assistant Professor of Business Law

Three weeks into teaching graduate level Business Ethics for the very first time, I — a middle-aged white woman charged with educating 22 mostly full-time working professionals, only two of whom were white and American — casually tossed a metaphorical lit match over my shoulder.

“Have you ever experienced unconscious bias or been excluded as a result of in-group favoritism?”

A moment of silent incredulity, and then, the room erupted. I stood by helplessly, mostly silently, for nearly 30 minutes, while students engaged in heated, visceral, and personal debate. Finally, the class period ended, and everyone left — with zero resolution. I was devastated.

When I called Dr. Mayo the next morning, she listened sympathetically and gave me some practical pedagogical ideas. But mostly, she reminded me that much of our ‘job’ as professors is to model reconciliation and encouraged me to get back in there, in spite of the breach — and to invite my students to do the same.

I reentered the classroom the next week with two photographs: first, a silly picture of a deer with giant goggle eyes — a deer in the headlights. That was me, and I apologized. Second, a beautifully set dinner table. Would they forgive me, and rejoin me at the learning table? 

For the next ten minutes, I feared their answer was “no.” I awkwardly started class, walking through slides and posing questions with little student response. Then, one student tentatively reengaged, and others quickly followed. Soon, we were talking and laughing together. We were back at the table again.