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PLU Sunday at Eastside Baptist Church

Posted by:
November 17, 2015

My Remarks at the Eastside Baptist Church on ‘PLU Sunday’
November 15, 2015

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to join your congregation today.

I’d like to talk with you about a difficult subject. In a two-year span in which rarely a day has passed that we haven’t heard about yet another racially-motivated incident in our country, we have another stunning situation to process: The resignations of the University of Missouri’s top two administrators represented a remarkable coup for student protesters, who have long demanded that leadership deal with their concerns about pervasive racism, among other issues on campus.

But the looming question now – for Mizzou and for every college campus in the nation – is what happens next? How does a university create a climate in which students, faculty members, staff, and community members can feel comfortable talking about race? What concrete steps can we take to make our campuses more welcoming to diverse people?

And how do we do this work in a careful, collaborative way, while being mindful that students and others expect quick results in an age of Twitter activism? I hope that you will share with me your thoughts and ideas, perhaps even volunteer to work with us on how we can make PLU a model for doing this important work right. We want to find the best way to get everyone around the table and create a safe space for a meaningful conversation that promotes real change. Like most colleges across the country, increasing diversity is one of the top challenges facing PLU.

  • 31% of our incoming first-year students this year are students of color, compared to about 24% in 2011;
  • Of those first-year students, 2.64% — only 17 students – are black. For the student body as a whole, 2.63% — 84 students – are black. We must do better than this.

And, only 14% of our full-time professors are people of color, and of those, exactly 8 are black. Academic departments need to have not only the will, but also the money, to recruit, nurture, and retain minority faculty members, many of whom might be reluctant to move to a university that has traditionally been known as a predominately white campus, founded by Norwegian immigrants. This, in turn, creates a challenge in recruiting and retaining students of color…for if you don’t see people that look like you, how will you fit in?

We are taking some important actions. PLU has recently promoted Angie Hambrick to the post of Associate Vice President of Diversity, Justice and Sustainability. Angie is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Higher Education from Azusa Pacific University in California.

Her research interests include the impact of social justice education on students, faculty, and staff, and the experiences of white individuals who are engaged in anti-racist initiatives. Angie’s work has been recognized regionally, nationally, and even internationally. Among Angie’s recent accomplishments is the launch of BIRT, the Bias Incident Response Team, which is an effort to address verbal, symbolic, and behavioral acts of bias through education and reconciliation.

And Melannie Cunningham has recently taken on an expanded role working closely with the University Diversity Committee on an initiative to assess, and recommend strategies to improve, the university’s efforts in recruitment, retention and graduation of students of color at PLU.  But the work of creating a truly welcoming and diverse community can’t happen just with Angie and Melannie, or be limited to PLU’s Diversity Center. To truly confront the fears and misunderstandings about race, this work has to happen everywhere on campus.

We need to provide more support to students, faculty, and staff who have experienced discrimination, and we need to provide more support for hiring and retaining diverse faculty and staff members. Several of our faculty members and students have also called for a racial awareness and inclusion curriculum. The United States is rich with the stories of the diverse groups that built this country. But as a deeply racialized society, stained by structural racism, not all stories are equally acknowledged or valued. Many stories survive simply through tenacious resistance in the face of a status quo that marginalizes, and often silences, their telling.

We cannot be silent anymore. It is only through education that we can finally put our nation’s troubled past – and present – behind us and realize the dreams of our best citizens, from our founders’ declaration that we are all “created equal,” to Martin Luther King’s dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed…that this home that we share will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and I hope that you will help PLU be that oasis; I hope that you will share your ideas and stories with us so that we may grow wiser; and most of all, I hope that you will come to campus often and help us be the best place for all students to flourish and grow.

Thank you.

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