How Seminary Students Can Bring Real Diversity to Their Institutions

Revolutions start from the bottom up. And they are led by those who are not willing to accept the status quo. They are led by those who are brave enough to hope.

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For a long time now, many institutions have engaged the so-called diversity conversation. While some have attempted to find better ways of embodying diversity, others have done their best to identify more creative and efficient strategies to perpetuate tokenism. And evangelical seminaries are no strangers to these dynamics. 

THEY MIGHT WANT YOUR FACE BUT NOT YOUR VOICE

While many seminaries seem to be very invested in the recruitment of minority students, representation in faculty, positions of power, and curriculum does not appear to be a priority. There is a desire for brown, black, Asian and female faces -which are conveniently featured in their advertising and promotional materials. But there is not much more.

What these institutions do not realize, ignore, or have just decided not to care about, is the incredible physical, mental, emotional and spiritual taxation that the systems in place have on minority students. Our histories are not well represented. That is if they even get a chance to be taught. Our people's voices are labeled para-theological or even dangerous, and our Christianity is met with suspicion. It is like being treated as a second-class Christian, while we are conveniently asked to smile for the camera.



HOW TO AMPLIFY MINORITY VOICES

However, in the face of these realities, there are ways in which we as students can bring real diversity to our institutions by disrupting the system from the inside. Because waiting for it to come from the top down is taking forever, and I am like, "Esto era pa' ayer mijx." – “This was due yesterday, people.” Here are four things you can do to amplify the voices of minorities in your institution. 

Fill Out that Course/Professor Evaluation!

I know, filling out that course evaluation form is the last thing you want to do. It is tedious, and often it seems like a waste of time, especially during finals. However, it is a golden opportunity clothed in rags. Trust me. It is a chance to provide critical feedback on teaching methods, course load, representation or misrepresentation of differing views, diversity of the required readings, etcetera. Make sure to use the comment section on the evaluation form strategically and suggest at least three ways in which the teaching/learning experience could be improved. The latter includes recommending some titles written by POC and women.

Diversify the Institution's Library

Another step towards a more catholic institution is the diversification of its library. We do not only need professors to revise the lists of required readings, but we also need libraries to make scholarship produced by minority scholars and Majority World academics available. The good news is there is something you can do about it.

Some libraries, like Rolfing Library, have a “Book and Media Suggestions” link on their website. The link will direct you to an online form through which you can request them to buy books (or media).

Last year, I asked them to buy four books: Toward a Womanist Ethic of Incarnation: Black Bodies, the Black Church, and the Council of Chalcedon by Eboni Marshall Turman; Galatians by Nancy Elizabeth Bedford; the T&T Clark Companion to Atonement, edited by Adam J. Johnson; and A Puerto Rican Decolonial Theology: Prophesy Freedom by Teresa Delgado. All of these books were written by WOC or include chapters written by Majority World scholars. For instance, Nancy E. Bedford is an Argentinian theologian, Eboni Marshall Turman is African-American, and Puerto Rican theologian Jules A. Martínez wrote a chapter on Liberation Theology for the T&T Clark Companion to Atonement.

By requesting your library to buy more diverse titles, you are contributing to an ethos of global scholarship, supporting the work of Majority World academics and minority scholars, and leaving a legacy for those who come after you. If you cannot find a link on your library’s website, contact someone on staff and ask if they receive book and media suggestions. 

Be Intentional About Your Bibliographies and Paper Topics

Before moving to the United States mainland to pursue an M.Div., I made a vow. I promised I would always include and amplify the voices of those doing theology in the periphery, especially in Latin America. The latter meant two things. First, I would be writing my papers from an explicit Latin American perspective, embracing our rich theological heritage. And second, I would need to do double the research, because the voices of minority scholars and Majority World academics are the ones often missing in our classes. But all the effort is worth it! Do not go for the easy way, doing the minimum. Aim to be a well-rounded individual with a more catholic vision of theology. 

Ask Critical Questions

There are several reasons why engaging class discussions is a task of gargantuan proportions for me. First, I am very self-conscious of my thick Hispanic accent. And secondly, often I find myself being the only woman or person of color in the room. But we cannot let fear paralyze us. It is vital for us to question with a desire to learn and contribute. Here is a list of questions you could consider asking in class:

  • How is the global church engaging this issue? 
  • Who are some of the Majority World scholars dealing with this topic?
  • Can you mention some African American, US Latinxs, Asian American, and First Nations scholars contributing to this discussion?
  • Who benefits from this?
  • Who are the people elaborating this theology? What is their context?
  • How would this theology play out in other contexts? Would it cause any problems?
  • Who is most directly affected by it? How?
  • What is another perspective or alternative?

All these are ways of honoring the body of Christ. They are also ways of resisting the Anti-kingdom. So go into the semester, and as Saw Gerrera charged Jyn Erso, I charge you,

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Featured Art: Tim Okamura, "Begin Transmission," 2015.