My Facebook friend, Raymond Chang, posted a piece on a friend’s experience with campus diversity. He is granting me permission to repost it (below). The post brings to fore some of the problems we face on college and university campuses with moving forward on racial diversity and the lingering problems of racial and ethnic insensitivity.
On Christians campuses, the struggle to achieve a diverse campus at all levels of the institution can be as challenging as attempts to do so on non-Christian campuses. The intent to please Christ by the cultivation of a diverse campus life reflects the Savior’s love for “people for God from every tribe and language and peoples and nation” (Rev. 5:9). But good intentions require yeoman efforts and changes of hearts and minds at all levels in order for conversations on diversity to find welcoming atmospheres, and for diversity to be viewed as a magnolia planted in good soil rather than as a briar patch for only the bravest to traverse.
Duke University has been leading the charge in the fight for campus diversity for over 30 years. By their own admittance, Duke stills lacks success at some levels, as a recent controversy at their divinity school might also reveal. Maybe Duke’s efforts (and failures) can help all of us think through the ways forward—ways, on Christian campuses, that will honor the Lord and help us reach 6.5 billion lost people with the gospel.
An enlightening case study:
A friend is at a large state school in a medical program with 450 students. Each class is comprised of a little over 100 students.
One of his classmates posted a “disrespectful and dignity stripping” rant on their class’ Facebook page making fun of a professor’s accent from an Asian country. This classmate clearly didn’t take into consideration that this professor was teaching at a graduate level in a language that wasn’t his mother tongue.
My friend noticed how it received over 30 likes (out of 100 people in the group) with a host of comments thinking it was hilarious. Each class is comprised of about 15% Asians, with 1-2% black and about 4% Latino. He noticed how the majority of the likes were by white students he has seen treat people (mostly patients) differently based on race and socioeconomic status when they came into the clinic. He remarked, “When we are in the clinic, I see how condescending my white peers are to patients who look poor or foreign.”
Of all the comments, the one that stuck out to him most was one by another student of color who thought the post was hilarious. He saw how other people of color who weren’t aware of the racial dynamics made it difficult for p.o.c’s who were trying to bring about the change the institution needed.
In response to the post, my friend wrote, “Who’s next?” Then, he listed the other faculty of color one by one who had accents or cultural differences other than the ones white people considered normal.
One by one, the likes went from 30 down to 10. The comments also disappeared one after another. Eventually, the O.P. was deleted too. The original poster found my friend’s phone number and asked to talk, realizing his act was racist without realizing it himself.
My friend has observed the institution carefully over the last three years and now that he is in his fourth year, he wants to leave the place better than he found it. As my friend is nearing the end of his program he is asking me what he can do. I look forward to helping him bring about change before he graduates.
These are some of his reflections from my phone call with him:
During his time as a student, he regularly heard off handed comments that were clearly rooted in prejudice and feels like he needs to do something before it’s too late (its already too late – he institution, like every higher education institution, is now playing catch up).
He expressed his frustration with the ways Asians are perceived as docile and black people are seen as angry. He also mentioned how he doesn’t want to be seen as an angry Asian because that is not who he really is. As his friend, I can attest to this.
He mentioned how students are doing things that only benefit themselves. He noted that they are operating out of a marginalized instinct and instead of advocating for systemic change, they huddle together to care for one another, which has its merits, but is doing nothing in the long run.
The faculty is very diverse, but to his surprise, it doesn’t make much difference because the administration isn’t. He noted that the faculty of color can’t stand up for students because they are concerned about their own tenure and promotions (which he understands). But he also notices how white faculty are fine challenging the institution on things that matter to them because their concerns are easier to digest for their superiors. He doesn’t know what to do about this because the people who can represent people like him don’t feel like they have the agency to because their livelihoods would be on the line.
He is frustrated with the diversity officer who doesn’t do anything except get people into the school. Once students and faculty walk in the door, they realize the institution is not what they expected it to be. The diversity officer is a very nice Christian woman who doesn’t do much except fill the quota of international and American people of color. The most she has done was facilitate conversations among people of color over meals. From what he’s observed, the diversity officer doesn’t do much to raise awareness about the communities the institution serves. The institution has a diversity officer for each major program – which means their program of 450 has its own designated diversity worker.
My friend feels a responsibility to talk with the student affairs office, the diversity officer, admissions, and if possible, the administration (who is all white) to address the issues at hand.
All these are things any institution can learn from. May we have the humility to learn from others.