On Diversity

Diversity and Inclusion: Where We Are and What We Need to Do

An update from Pete C. Menjares, the CCCU Senior Fellow for Diversity.

Since being named senior fellow for diversity in September 2015, we have entered into an era of great challenge for race relations in the United States. Part of my role is to assist the CCCU and its members in navigating our current racial climate and achieving diversity and inclusive excellence on their campuses. To better understand the CCCU’s diversity needs, I spent the past several months engaging campus leaders, interacting with the CCCU’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, and attending numerous professional meetings, peer group conferences and student gatherings. I also engaged Christian leaders outside of Christian higher education to gain their perspectives. These conversations have helped develop my understanding of the range of needs facing our constituency. What follows are some of the more salient things I have heard.

On Diversity is a column open to all interested in writing about diversity and inclusion. Proposals and inquiries can be sent to editor@cccu.org.

Need to support and expand student and faculty diversity. According to 2014 IPEDS data, students of color represent nearly a quarter (23.61 percent) of all students in the CCCU while total faculty diversity (full- and part-time) is less than one in ten (9.95 percent). Students of color have expressed difficulty fitting in and feeling pressure to assimilate into the white majority. Faculty of color are often the only person of color in their department or academic division, and most campuses have a lack of diversity in key staff and administrator roles. There is a great need to build structures of support for both faculty and students of color.

‘Double burden’ on diversity and inclusion staff. Chief diversity officers and multicultural affairs staff find themselves wearing many hats in their attempt to live up to the demands of the job to support students of color, educate the white majority in the process while shepherding the institution’s diversity commitment. Most are also ethnic/racial minorities; thus they carry the “double burden” of being one of the only professionals of color on their campuses and are implicitly expected to serve as spokespersons for their racial or ethnic group. As a result, these professionals need personal and professional sustainability to bear the weight of responsibility that their jobs demand. Most of these departments are also under-resourced and frequently speak of the need for additional staff, budget, programming and space.  

Administrative struggles in expanding diversity. With heavy responsibilities of raising funds and managing campus crises, presidents are not always able to spend the time they would like in nurturing their campus communities and advocating for racial justice and equality. Chief academic officers are called to diversify the faculty and curricula and to provide intercultural competency development for existing faculty  – often with budget and time constraints, and sometimes with a resistant faculty culture. Campus ministers are mindful that the increase in student diversity results in a  greater variety of faith traditions and worship expressions, and so they must find ways to best care for the souls of all students while leading their communities in the important but painful process of racial reconciliation.

Educating the white majority. Recently, I attended a student forum on diversity at one of our member schools. Near the end of the packed-out forum, a white female student asked, “How can I use my voice to speak with them (students of color) and not for them?” That question summarizes much of what I have heard from white students, faculty, staff and administrators who want to enter into the diversity conversation, but do not know how. Additionally, there is the challenge of engaging those in the white majority who see the race problem differently or remain disinterested.

What's next?

Here are a few areas where needs are being addressed, some which the CCCU and its institutions have in place and some that need to be expanded or formed.

Utilize proven tools and strategies to achieve campus diversity. There are a number of needs emerging on many of our campuses in their pursuit of an authentic multi-cultural learning community, including the need to enroll and retain a diverse student body; identify, hire, and retain a more diverse faculty, staff, and administration; develop the faculty interculturally; diversify the curriculum; and engage the white majority in the diversity conversation while also equipping each of our students for work and service in the global marketplace. However, making diversity an institutional reality requires a working knowledge of the practical tools and proven strategies to get us there. And in order to do this well, we must network more effectively to identify, develop, share, and apply the best tools available to build institutional capacity in each of these areas.

Enhance communications. There is a great need for strengthened peer-to-peer networking, sharing of best practices, dissemination of research, and information on available diversity resources like conferences, professional growth opportunities, training materials, and books. As a result, the CCCU staff is developing ways to enhance communications on these topics to member and affiliate institutions. In addition, this new dedicated column on diversity in Advance will be written not by one individual; instead, any campus expert who is interested in writing on a topic related to diversity and inclusion can submit a proposal to help the CCCU share the best of what is working for your campus.

Continue development for faculty and campus leadership. The CCCU remains committed to providing professional growth opportunities for emerging leaders to come together through the Multi-Ethnic Leadership Development Institutes. (See “Changing the Face of Christian Higher Education.") Additionally, the CCCU is developing and expanding faculty development opportunities like the New Faculty Institute (being held this summer at Calvin College) and will increasingly look into ways to highlight and promote best practices of development initiatives taking place on individual campuses. Finally, the CCCU Diversity Conference being held at Nyack College this September will fill a critical need for diversity professionals and provide an opportunity to send teams of campus leaders for training and development, peer-to-peer networking, dissemination of research and sharing of best practices.

Promote research and scholarship and benchmark progress. There are Christian scholars around the country who are in the midst of important research on diversity and inclusion in the CCCU, and there is a critical need for research to inform our understanding of current needs, identify best practices, and shape our agenda going forward. There is also a need to update CCCU data for student diversity, enrollment and graduation rates, as well as on staff and faculty diversity, and then see how we compare to the rest of higher education. All of this can help us develop valid and reliable tools to measure inclusive excellence and progress for faith-based schools. 

If Christian higher education is to have a vibrant future – a future in which every member thrives – we must remain strategic about how to re-contextualize our mission for a demographic reality that more accurately reflects the diversity of the kingdom of God. We must also discern the times, seek to understand what God is doing in our world today and courageously follow him into that work. Finally, if we are to thrive, Jesus Christ must remain at the center of who we are and all that we do.

Pete C. Menjares is the CCCU Senior Fellow for Diversity. He is the owner and principle of Menjares Consulting Group, LLC, was previously the president of Fresno Pacific University, and currently serves as a member of the Board of Trustees at Seattle Pacific University. He can be contacted at pmenjares@cccu.org or via the web at www.petemenjares.com.

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