DJS 101

Integrating the Imperatives of Diversity, Social Justice, and Sustainability

Sub-Committee Members. Angie Hambrick (Diversity Center), Teresa Ciabattari (Sociology, 2012-13), Chrissey Cooley (Sustainability Office), Heather Mathews (Art & Design, 2012-13), Melannie Cunningham (Admissions), Dennis Sepper (Campus Ministry), Carmina Palerm (Languages & Literatures, IHON, 2013-14).

Pacific Lutheran University has a strong commitment to diversity, social justice and sustainability rooted in our Lutheran heritage and lifted up in the planning documents of PLU 2000, 2010 and 2020. Our Lutheran tradition calls on us to see diversity, social justice and sustainability not as three separate concerns but as one crucial cause demanding our best attention and action. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has called on all people to “defend human dignity, to stand with poor and powerless people, to advocate justice, to work for peace, and to care for the earth in the processes and structures of contemporary society” (The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective, 1991).

Diversity, Social Justice, and Sustainability are not separate concerns, but instead interrelated ones, no one of which can be addressed without addressing the others. For what, exactly, is ‘social justice,’ and how can one begin to arrive at even provisional definitions of it, without including the perspectives of diverse individuals, diverse human communities, and without considering the flourishing of non-human animals and ecosystems? And what, exactly, is ‘diversity,’ and how can one arrive at even provisional definitions of it, without considering which forms we should justly support, and which — as potentially destructive of other communities, individuals, or environments — we should not? And what, finally, is ‘sustainability,’ and how can we arrive at even provisional definitions of it, without considering diverse perspectives on what should justly be sustained — and what not?
In modern societies, universities like PLU can and should play a unique role in cultivating and sustaining dialogues about the meanings of such terms, and the various practices intended to address them. Unlike advocacy organizations, which must often homogenize their messages in order to do battle in the marketplace of ideas, universities like PLU must above all serve as sites of dissensus on these matters, where all reasonably-argued views and perspectives are not simply welcomed but also cultivated.

In our pursuit of becoming a more diverse, socially just, and sustainable community, we must evaluate existing structures and envision new structures to integrate diversity, social justice, and sustainability into our living, learning, and working communities. Furthermore, it is imperative for us to recognize, name, and confront theoretical and systematic tensions that may inhibit and stall the process. Financial and human resources, institutional learning and working spaces, and curricular and co-curricular support must all be reexamined to ensure equality and equity. Dialogue about theoretical differences that may exist between the concepts of diversity, social justice, and sustainability must not be ignored, but encourage with civility.

These guiding values are created to assist Pacific Lutheran University move boldly forward so that our students, faculty, and staff might be good global citizens and creative leaders in furthering the cause of diversity, social justice and sustainability.


“The condition of difference necessary to all life and creativity” –
Martusewicz, Edmundson, & Lupinacci, 2011

Articulated in PLU 2000 and 2010 is PLU’s commitment to diversity. These documents challenged the institution to make intentional strides in recruiting a more diverse student body and to be a leader in global education. In subsequent years, PLU continues to attract a diverse student population including students of color, first-generation college students, international students, transfer students, and veterans. PLU has been recognized national and internationally as innovative and intentional leaders in global education and internationalization. The Perspectives on Diversity in the General Education Core ensure that all PLU students have the opportunity to think critically about multiple perspectives and value various cultures, traditions, behaviors, and practices. These milestones are worthy of celebration, however, to be a university of the First Rank, we must continue to reevaluate current diversity models and practices to ensure we are moving forward to creating a more diverse living and learning community. We must be mindful of the fact that diversity efforts should not only focus on racial and ethnic categories of our students, faculty, and staff. The diversity imperative permeates all aspects of our local and global communities and is vital for us to engage with if we are to truly live out the mission of the institution.

Pacific Lutheran University values Diversity because:

  • Diversity is essential to all life, creativity, vision, and innovation.
  • We learn and grow from experiencing a diversity of people, perspectives, ideas, and thoughts. Diversity allows us to interact with a broadened understanding of each other and the social, environmental, and global communities we inhabit.
  • Difference is not to be ignored, but acknowledged, celebrated, and respected.
  • Diversity is necessary for resilience because of the interdependency and interconnectedness of the world and its inhabitants.
  • PLU’s mission is to nurture resilient graduates who can respond to and lead across a range of issues.
  • We must be open and affirming to multiple ways of knowing and learning, and cultivate an environment that is intellectually and culturally diverse.

Social Justice

“To move beyond mere appreciation or celebration into active efforts to examine and dismantle oppressive structures and policies and move toward a more equitable vision for the institution and it members” – Thompson, Hardee, & Lane, 2011

Social justice calls for individuals to understand and grapple with how their multiple identities affect others in their local and global communities. Lalas and Valle (2007) studied the importance of looking at social and systemic inequalities through a social justice framework. A social justice framework includes critical pedagogy, funds of knowledge, politics of caring and connectedness, resiliency, and social networking. If PLU is to invest in creating a community that is more socially just, we must have open and honest discussions in issues of social inequalities, racism, and discrimination. Means of achieving a socially justice community include acknowledging the power and privilege we hold as an institution of higher education and how we intentionally and unintentionally perpetuate systems of oppression, domination, and subordination. Social justice takes into account individual identities, such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class and requires exploration of identity, not in isolation, but as they intersect and interact with one another.

Pacific Lutheran University values Social Justice because:

  • The full and equal participation of all individuals in society where they feel safe, secured, and valued is a crucial to humanizing all individuals and environmental ecosystems.
  • Although difference and diversity is essential, it is imperative that individuals and systems of individual, institutional, and systematic power, privilege, and oppression be recognized, named, and subverted.
  • All voices, regardless of social identities and categories, deserve to be heard.
  • Structural diversity is not enough to ensure an individual’s sense of belonging.
  • The pursuit of social justice cannot be achieved in a vacuum.
  • It is important for academics to educate students who will be fully engaged global citizens, who living out the PLU mission, are change agents at the micro and macro level.
  • All members of our local and global communities deserve to be treated with respect, dignity, and courtesy regardless of difference.


​“Sustainability aims to create synergy among care for people, for the planet, and prosperity, both now and in the future. These values provide meaning for all living things that have a relationship with the earth.” – Pacific Lutheran University White Paper on Sustainability

There are connections and interdependencies between and within society and our natural world. These connections create strength and resiliency in systems, but the system can be weakened by the subtlest of change. “In the face of overwhelming change, sustainability is an idea that absorbs our genuine hope to create cultures and places with enough integrity to persist for our grandchildren and beyond” (Van der Ryn, 23.) A sustainable community brings awareness and respect to the systems in place, and nurtures their strength by focusing on care for the people within it, respecting the needs of the planet, and encouraging economic viability.

Sustainability calls the PLU community to reflect on our impact on the ecosystems of which we are a part. Sustainability also necessarily includes the long-term health of our society and, as such, a commitment to social justice. This is not possible without a respect for the value of diversity, and full consideration of all community members. Finally, sustainability assumes that a community must be strong in order to care for people and the planet, and so creating prosperity is vital. To achieve long-term economic viability, sustainability has the potential to lower costs while also creating additional value for the University. As we move toward 2020, the PLU community must ensure that sustainability is understood to include commitment to all three of these dimensions – social justice, environmental conservation, and economic prosperity.

Pacific Lutheran University values Sustainability because:

  • Sustainability supports the values and goals that are inherent in PLU’s mission. The project of educating students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care for other persons, for the community, and for the Earth suggests all three legs of sustainability: people, planet, and prosperity.
  • It is a core principle of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which asserts that sustainability “summons each of us, in every aspect of our lives, to behave in ways that are consistent with the long-term sustainability of our planet.” The church also affirms the interconnection between people, planet, and prosperity, emphasizing a commitment to “the capacity of natural and social systems to survive and thrive together over the long term.”
  • The opportunity to use the campus as a living laboratory where students can be a part of real world applications of the three tracts of sustainability Sustainability engenders social responsibility, economic equity, and ecological consciousness, which are essential aspects of living lives as citizens of the Earth.
  • PLU values adequate preparation that will allow students to grow into members of society that serve and think of themselves as contributors to their communities.


Substantial work remains to be done to create living, learning, and working environments that supports and validates all who engage in it and to strengthen our commitment and responsibility to educate students to be active citizens and leaders in our diverse region and world. As such, we must constantly reassess our Lutheran heritage, local and global oppressive structures that perpetuate the subordination and marginalization of groups, past, present, and future, and consider a new framework, one that challenges us to think differently about how we define and live and work in our community, our curriculum and co-curriculum, and the students we educate. As we look to the future of our institution, a strategic plan that outlines how Pacific Lutheran University will continue to value diversity, social justice, and sustainability and how our structures for “educating students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership, and care-for other people, for their communities, and the earth” are deliberately diverse, socially just, and sustainable.