On May 31, 2020, President Bob Brower called the PLNU community to prayer and corporate lament in response to the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
Along with partnering with the PLNU Office of Spiritual Development to host a virtual prayer gathering on June 1, 2020, President Brower also invited 15 faculty and staff members from across the university to meet on June 11, 2020, and have an open conversation about how to respond as a community. The purpose was to identify needs, meaningful actions, and strategies.
After this meeting, President Brower invited Dr. Montague Williams, Professor of Church, Culture, and Society, to join him in developing the PLNU Collective on Anti-racism, consisting of a core leadership team and four working groups involving a total of 27 faculty and staff members from across the university to address major areas of work.
Structure and Work of the Collective
The collective’s leadership team worked together as a hub for bigger-picture strategy, communication, decision-making, and navigation through complications pertaining to PLNU’s racial justice and reconciliation work.
Each working group was empowered to examine and work on strategies for a particular area of focus. These areas were identified as:
- Common Language and Partnerships
- Student Life
- The Classroom
- Hiring and Training
What follows is an explanation of what the PLNU Collective on Anti-racism has done over the last year and their suggestions for how PLNU moves forward in the coming months and years.
Recommendations from the Collective
At the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year, the collective offered several immediate and longer-term steps to be considered for action. The suggested action steps are organized under the following interrelated categories:
- Sustaining Awareness and Shared Understanding
- Cultivating Right Relationships
- Fostering a Culture of Commitment and Creativity
Sustaining Awareness and Shared Understanding
One of the most difficult aspects of addressing racism is the lack of awareness and shared understanding. When there are seasons of awakening in society, Christian organizations that lack shared understanding find themselves searching for (re-)education and level-one conversations on the basics rather than meeting the moment with kingdom hope and practice. The lack of shared understanding can easily debilitate meaningful efforts and replace them with meaningless debate. It’s important for the PLNU community to remain involved in the work of addressing racism even when it’s no longer in vogue. We seek a steadfastness in our approach, which requires continual awareness as well as work to maintain a shared understanding of the critical issues.
Cultivating Right Relationships
Recent research from the Fuller Youth Institute has shown that young people are concerned with three driving concerns, which can be summarized as three questions: “Who am I?” “What difference can I make?” and “Where do I fit?” While PLNU’s public-facing and internal attention to calling and vocation can offer our students a path to answering the first two questions, the question before us is whether we’re committed to cultivating belonging. Through the Collective’s research, interviews, and conversations over the last year, it's become clear that there is a disparity among PLNU students, in which students of color are left with a unique enduring strain to find and maintain a sense of belonging at PLNU. Theologian and educator Willie James Jennings writes: “The cultivation of belonging should be the goal of all education — not just any kind of belonging, but a profoundly creaturely belonging that performs the returning of the creature to the creator [and] drives life together with God.” Jennings points to the unique kind of belonging we find portrayed in biblical visions of the kingdom of God that other theologians have described as “kin-dom” or Beloved Community. Our paths for helping students to begin answering questions about identity and purpose in their first year must have clear ties to building a multi-racial and multi-ethnic sense of belonging.
Fostering a Culture of Commitment and Creativity
The two categories above are important in the work of racial justice and reconciliation, but they do not concretize action toward long-term change. Moving forward in this endeavor requires establishing commitment and encouraging creativity. As a community with processes in place, we have a unique opportunity to imagine long-term change and collaborate together in ways which (1) bear witness to the Beloved Community and (2) act on our prayer that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. Fostering a culture of commitment and creativity is, in many ways, the most difficult aspect of this work, because it is not grounded in momentary responses and popular trends in society. Rather, it requires us to accept that the work of racial justice and reconciliation is part of PLNU’s long-term mission and to treat it as such.
Recommendations from the Collective in a Timeline Format
The following is a summary of the collective’s highest-level recommendations. These initiatives have been presented to President Brower and PLNU’s Cabinet for consideration and next steps.
- Replace the recently vacated Chief Diversity Office (CDO) position with a highly qualified, full-time employee dedicated to diversity and anti-racism work and report directly to the president. In the interim, appoint a person to serve in such a role to keep moving forward on recommendations, championing, partnerships, gathering, and assessment.
- Launch the new bias reporting webpage and program created by the Student Life working group.
- Evaluate BIPOC employee retention strategies in concert with ongoing recruitment efforts.
- Launch a comprehensive PLNU diversity and anti-racism section of the PLNU website. Students, staff, faculty, and prospective-student families should be able to navigate this web area and have a deep understanding of PLNU’s commitment and actions related to addressing racism and other aspects of life in a diverse community.
- Complete and make available the Common Language and Partnerships working group’s glossary of terms. This should also be incorporated into the teaching and organizational life of the university.
- Make an anti-racism course list available to students.
- Begin a longer-term process of reworking employee recruiting, hiring, and training for all search teams and hiring managers.
- Ensure both the PLNU Excellence in Diversity Award and MLK Legacy Award continue to be funded and awarded.
- Ensure the Diversity Leadership Scholarship and MLK Scholarship for Theological Education continue to be funded and awarded.
- Launch Search Advocate program. Develop and train resource individuals/search advocates who participate on search teams for designated positions. These specially trained search advocates would promote best practices and provide questions around the areas of diversity and mission fit.
- Explore and propose ways to assess and score commitment to diversity and anti-racism in the faculty rank and tenure process.
- Establish a central office for anti-racism/diversity work within the university.
- Include a component in the university’s strategic plan that requires the major branches of the university to establish anti-racism goals and policies. Also, require the major branches of the university to collect data on an ongoing basis for the purpose of determining progress toward their identified anti-racism goals.
- Identify possible ways to make grant money available each year for different groups on campus to take on initiatives related to anti-racism/diversity work.
- Fund course releases for a team of faculty to conduct research on PLNU’s story with race and racism. The research can be interdisciplinary but should have a historical framework with attention to policies, experiences, and theology.
- Consider the possibility of starting a postdoctoral teaching program for BIPOC graduates of Ph.D. programs.