Christian Colleges and Racial Diversity by Scott McKnight

It’s Sunday. On Sunday the church celebrates its Lord, and it also celebrates together — across the spectrum of races in the world. The church, designed by our Lord to be the most integrated space in the world, sadly fails to integrate when it worships. So when we read that Christian colleges (and David Parkyn-led North Park does much better than most) are not integrated, that is a reflection that the gospel evangelicalism preaches tends toward one ethnic group because it creates one kind of (salvation) culture.

Here is a study by Christine Scheller at Urban Faith worth your careful reading:

Story after story testify to the struggles many students of color face at mostly White evangelical colleges and universities. But a growing movement of faculty, administrators, and former students is determined to help Christian campuses become culturally intelligent communities of faith and learning…

Twelve years ago the CCCU established a Racial Harmony Award to celebrate the achievements of its member institutions in the areas of “diversity, racial harmony, and reconciliation.”

In 2001, the organization’s board affirmed its commitment. “If we do not bring the issues of racial-ethnic reconciliation and multi-ethnicity into the mainstream of Christian higher education, our campuses will always stay on the outside fringes,” remarked Sam Barkat, former board member and provost of Nyack College in Nyack, New York….

Multiple sources said students of color at Christian colleges are routinely harassed with racially insensitive jokes and comments by members of their campus communities, for example, and that this harassment is sometimes not taken seriously enough by school administrators.

When racism isn’t overt, students often feel like they won’t be accepted by their school communities unless they suppress their ethnic identities. Many students feel profoundly lonely on majority-White CCCU campuses, our sources said….

Dante Upshaw, for example, has been both a student and a staff member at evangelical schools. He recalled the challenge that worship presented when he was a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

“For the average White student, it’s an easy crossover. … It’s kind of this big youth group. But for the Black student, the Hispanic student, this is a whole different God,” said Upshaw….

At Chicago-based North Park University, where the student body is 47 percent non-White or mixed race, diversity has led to a new kind of tension, according to Nathan Mouttet, North Park’s vice president for enrollment and marketing.

“For many of the schools that have historically had generation after generation of the same students coming, now they’re starting to come to grips with the fact that in word we want diversity, but the actual practice is very complicated,” he said. “One of the things that we’re coming to wrestle with here at North Park is that there isn’t a central dominant culture. But then where do you find the norm? Which culture becomes the centralizing norm?”

The diversity professionals we spoke to would say this is the right kind of tension and a good problem to have.

“There’s something about doing the work,” Kinoshita said. “I’m not sure how to explain it, but it releases something of God’s blessings.”


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