Christian Colleges and Racial Diversity

It’s Sunday. On Sunday the church celebrates its Lord, and it also celebrates together — across the spectrum of races in the world. The church, designed by our Lord to be the most integrated space in the world, sadly fails to integrate when it worships. So when we read that Christian colleges (and David Parkyn-led North Park does much better than most) are not integrated, that is a reflection that the gospel evangelicalism preaches tends toward one ethnic group because it creates one kind of (salvation) culture.

Here is a study by Christine Scheller at Urban Faith worth your careful reading:

Story after story testify to the struggles many students of color face at mostly White evangelical colleges and universities. But a growing movement of faculty, administrators, and former students is determined to help Christian campuses become culturally intelligent communities of faith and learning…

Twelve years ago the CCCU established a Racial Harmony Award to celebrate the achievements of its member institutions in the areas of “diversity, racial harmony, and reconciliation.”

In 2001, the organization’s board affirmed its commitment. “If we do not bring the issues of racial-ethnic reconciliation and multi-ethnicity into the mainstream of Christian higher education, our campuses will always stay on the outside fringes,” remarked Sam Barkat, former board member and provost of Nyack College in Nyack, New York….

Multiple sources said students of color at Christian colleges are routinely harassed with racially insensitive jokes and comments by members of their campus communities, for example, and that this harassment is sometimes not taken seriously enough by school administrators.

When racism isn’t overt, students often feel like they won’t be accepted by their school communities unless they suppress their ethnic identities. Many students feel profoundly lonely on majority-White CCCU campuses, our sources said….

Dante Upshaw, for example, has been both a student and a staff member at evangelical schools. He recalled the challenge that worship presented when he was a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

“For the average White student, it’s an easy crossover. … It’s kind of this big youth group. But for the Black student, the Hispanic student, this is a whole different God,” said Upshaw….

At Chicago-based North Park University, where the student body is 47 percent non-White or mixed race, diversity has led to a new kind of tension, according to Nathan Mouttet, North Park’s vice president for enrollment and marketing.

“For many of the schools that have historically had generation after generation of the same students coming, now they’re starting to come to grips with the fact that in word we want diversity, but the actual practice is very complicated,” he said. “One of the things that we’re coming to wrestle with here at North Park is that there isn’t a central dominant culture. But then where do you find the norm? Which culture becomes the centralizing norm?”

The diversity professionals we spoke to would say this is the right kind of tension and a good problem to have.

“There’s something about doing the work,” Kinoshita said. “I’m not sure how to explain it, but it releases something of God’s blessings.”





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  • This fits with Robert Putnam’s observation that diversity for diversity’s sake is actually destructive of community. There must be diversity grounded in unity for diversity to bring positive outcomes. I think schools will have to be more intentional about how the define their story and the locus of their unity.

  • cas

    Scot, Thanks for highlighting this story for your readers. I really appreciate it! Christine

  • I remember when I was in college at such a Christian-affiliated university. Even though it WAS a small school (only around 400 students at the time), I really shouldn’t have been able to count all the African-American students on one hand (for the Asians, I perhaps needed two).

  • Tom

    I suppose I’m completely disconnected from the “Christian” college scene and will just google it, but for the record, and this post, what is the CCCU?

  • I’m presently at Tyndale Seminary ( in Toronto. We also have a Christian University/Bible college connected. It is easily one of the most diverse and multicultural Christian undergrad and graduate institutions in North America. We have no choice but to view the church through a multicultural lenses at Tyndale.

  • cas

    Tom, CCCU was identified in the article as the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, an international association of Christian institutions of higher education, seeks to provide resources and support for the students, faculty, and administrations of its member schools.

  • cas

    Greg, I plan to do a follow-up article on schools, like Northpark, where Scot teaches, and yours, that are more integrated. Thanks for the tip.

  • It would be interesting to do a study here at Houston Baptist University. We were once the most culturally and ethnically diverse university in Houston, beating out the University of Houston, Rice, and other universities. I look out on classes where non-hispanic whites are just another minority. We are at least 30-35% Hispanic, 20-25% Afro-American, with a significant group of Asians, etc. We are apparently safe enough and accepting enough that a number of Muslims attend our university, some women wearing headscarfs. I have taken to doing surveys of the survey classes I teach, for I want to know who is there. Now the issue is, How do all of these feel about HBU? That I have not measured, although there seems to as much unity as one could expect on campus where over half the study body commutes. There is definitely expressions of Hispanic and Afro-American identity in convocation (in some Christian schools, chapel), in student organizations, etc. But I have not measured the feelings. I might add that I see a number of cross-race/ethnicity couples, which tells me that people are not segregated. Of course, if you are in Texas and are not reaching into these populations, then you are marginalized. The university is unified around a particular vision of Christian education, the 10 Pillars, and the faculty (which is also multi-ethnic and definitely multi-denominational) around a basic orthodox Christian confession.

  • cas

    Peter, I already have Houston Baptist on my list for my follow-up story. Thanks for the tip, though.

  • Steve Sherwood

    I teach at George Fox, in Oregon where 5 years ago we began taking part in a program, ActSix, which at the time was a few years old at Whitworth. It has now spread to school’s across the country, I believe. Under-served students are selected in their junior year of high school, placed in a cadre of 10 students that begin college prep, diversity training and leadership training together weekly during their senior years. They arrive on campus together as freshmen and continue to meet as a cadre throughout their time in college. Not only has the program, here and elsewhere, done a great job of helping the participating students to deal with the challenges of being a minority at a predominantly white institution, it has made our campus a much more attractive and “safe” place for other minority students. It is not a cheap program, but has been a tremendous blessing at our school.

    I’ve only read this summary, so if the Urban Faith article discusses ActSix, I apologize for being redundant!

  • My understanding is, a school of 400 would have 48-49 black students to match the US population at large, and 53% would, indeed, be white. North Park is right on target.

  • Steve, Act Six is not mentioned. I did not talk specifically about the program in the interview with Christine. I focused on macro level types of things that can be done to sustain diversity efforts.

  • cas

    Joel, You did tell me about ActsSix (though it was months ago), but I did not have space to discuss it. Perhaps in another article : )

  • JoeyS

    My Alma Mater is the 2012 recipient of the Racial Harmony Award. I’ve enjoyed watching the campus come to terms with integrating other cultures. Canada actually worked there for two years and his voice is missed in our community.