Why does SPU need to think about diversity?
I am sometimes asked, “Why do we need an office at Seattle Pacific University that focuses on diversity when the student body is already so diverse?” I certainly understand the question.
After all, in Autumn 2018 we reached a milestone, with 51 percent of the incoming class composed of historically underrepresented students. There is much to celebrate as we achieve greater racial and ethnic parity in our student population. However, a focus on demographics alone runs the risk of eclipsing more significant concerns of equity and justice and the message of reconciliation that grounds the work of diversity at SPU.
Across the nation, students who society confines to racially defined categories continue to experience college campuses as hostile environments. Most often these encounters are not the result of willful acts of harm. Instead they are communicated unwittingly through questions of belonging, different expectations, and biased curriculum decisions.
For instance, a black man might be approached by a campus safety officer and asked to present his identification because someone thought he looked suspicious, sending the message that he does not belong in that space. An English language learner might be urged to consider a major other than biology because it might be easier for her, signaling that she cannot be expected to learn fluent and specialized English. Courses that include histories of underrepresented groups are often peripheral to the core curriculum, communicating that these groups are less important to cultural understanding than histories of the majority groups in a country or area.
Why do the work of diversity?
Things like this have happened at SPU. Our commitment to rooting out the sources of bias that lead to such actions, and preventing them in the future, comes from our commitment to preserving the true and full humanity of all people.
At SPU, diversity is not the pursuit of numerical representation, but the pursuit of God’s heart as we recognize and honor the image of God in each person. The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion facilitates the effort to more deeply integrate diversity into the daily rhythms of our campus community. Our day-to-day work focuses on training and support to help individuals and SPU as an organization engage the complexities and tensions of diversity and live into the hope of restoration.
Since its founding in July 2017, this office has introduced a number of initiatives to help faculty and staff live more intentionally into SPU’s mission-driven focus on diversity.
We have developed a diversity timeline highlighting key historical moments and significant events at SPU that shape the context for our current diversity and reconciliation efforts. The timeline recounts painful aspects of our past, including the story of how, in 1950, the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific College hosted a minstrel show in McKinley Auditorium, featuring musical numbers and comedic skits by performers in blackface. It also points to moments in our history that are cause for celebration, including the establishment of the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership, Training, and Community Development in 2004. The timeline is a tool for historical understanding that creates opportunities for biblical lament as a communal expression of our Christian faith.
“Why were we ever comfortable with a distorted representation of God’s kingdom?”
For too long, colleges and universities have asked, “How should we respond as our nation becomes increasingly diverse?” At SPU, we want to ask a more proactive and reflective question: “Why were we ever comfortable with a distorted representation of God’s kingdom?” In so doing, we develop a more robust theology of diversity to guide our ongoing efforts.
As we ground this work in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we encounter the one who in crucifixion and resurrection has made it possible for us to be unified in our diversity. And, together, we discover the burden and joy of carrying each other’s crosses.
The following reflections come from writers from across campus who have been asked to share their efforts and observations in engaging the work of diversity and to explore the possibilities offered by our location in Seattle, our academic breadth, and our faith commitment. Each reflection illuminates from a different angle the centrality of diversity to our institutional mission as Seattle Pacific continues to tackle important issues in the classroom and in our local communities.
Sandra Mayo is the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Why do communities of faith need the work of diversity?
- What does diversity have to do with our surroundings?
- Why should we care about diversity in a physics classroom?