Friday, August 15, 2008

diversity of Christian campuses

A few weeks ago I commented on an Inside Higher Ed piece concerning racial diversity on college campuses and on their promotional materials (see here). Today's Inside Higher Ed has this piece on the diversity of Christian college campuses. I have a couple thoughts.
  1. First, this is good news. Diversifying Christian campuses, especially more conservative/evangelical campuses such as the one I proudly serve, is arguably more difficult than diversifying public or private non-religious institutions because requirements other than race have significant impact on the racial makeup of the student body. Christian campuses often have denominational affiliations that constrain the cultural and theological changes they can make to attract students from other faith traditions (read: races). Relatedly, those denominational affiliations also provide a major recruiting ground for Christian institutions, so colleges affiliated with traditionally White faith traditions already face an uphill battle in recruiting students of other races. Also, at many of these institutions (including mine) full-time faculty have to sign a statement of faith and/or attend a specific denominational church. As in the case of Calvin College, that means that professional and academic qualifications alone do not suffice to make one eligible to teach at Christian institution. The lack of diversity among full-time faculty is a major impediment to the diversification of the student body.
  2. Second, despite being a good thing, the article suffers from a major weakness. As I pointed out in my post on Facial Diversity, too often in American discussions of race focus exclusively (or nearly so) on the Black population. This comes through in the current article in two ways. (a) Most obviously, the article focuses exclusively on the (commendable) increase of Black students on Christian campuses. Other minorities are mentioned only as an after-thought, as in the following quote from Paul R. Corts, president of the CCCU:
    Seeing that there are more black students enrolled is only part of the picture because one of the reasons you get more black students is because you’ve been making your campus more welcoming to blacks and other minorities as well.

    ". . . and other minorities as well." While I'm sure this is unintentional, as a member of a non-Black minority group, I can't help but read this as a marginalizing of non-Blacks as quasi-non-minorities (but still also non-White/non-majority). While Black and White is more racially diverse than just White, it still misses out on a lot (even most) of the potential diversity that the Church (and all its affiliated institutions) should be pursuing. (b) More subtly, the article nowhere addresses the responsibilities of the Black community to participate in the effort to diversify Christian (and other) campuses. The phenomenal increases in enrollment of Black students reported in the article are not simply the result of the efforts of predominantly White Christian colleges to attract a broader mix of students. Those colleges have had to develop relationships with other organizations, not least traditionally Black faith traditions and churches, colleges and social organizations, which themselves have had to participate in the efforts to encourage Black students to matriculate into those colleges. In other words, I think the credit for the good things going on among CCCU's member institutions ought to be more broadly spread.
  3. Third, my own institution, as I've already said, still has a lot of work to do to diversify our student body, our faculty, and our staff and administration. That said, we already have a surprisingly diverse campus community, if race is not allowed to be the sole criterion of diversity. And while we do still have our work cut out for us, we also need to be up front that there are some aspects of diversity that our campus outright rejects. As the most obvious example, we will always be a Christian college, so religious diversity, beyond the boundaries of Christian praxis and theology, will never be welcomed here. That's not to say that Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and atheist individuals, etc. will be driven off campus by angry students with pitchforks and torches. But those individuals will never be integrated into our identity as an institution.

I hope that the trends identified in the IHE piece continue in up-coming years; even more to the point, I hope these trends are already more broadly applicable and continue to be so in the future. My dream of a more diverse Church (in all its related institutions) jives with the politically correct emphasis on diversity, but it is not motivated by political correctness. Rather, I have in view the vision of John the Elder, who was granted a glimpse into heaven and was surprised by the gathering from every nation, tribe, and tongue to worship the Creator of the universe. Making our colleges and universities more accurately reflect the racial make-up of the country (or even the world) isn't a bad idea; a better one is to bring our institutions into conformity with the racial make-up of heaven.

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