Choosing to pursue a Doctorate degree at the age of 46 was not a decision I came to lightly. With multiple areas of responsibility in my work and family life, it was a desire and dream of mine that I thought I may need to push off for longer; or let go of altogether. However, the volatility in our nation today – especially around race and equality – confirmed for me that I want to have a stronger voice in the education and development of our youth. I want to be a part of creating authentic and real change that leads to true acceptance and equality; true accountability and growth; and positive engagement that brings our world together.
I chose to return to my alma mater, Seattle Pacific University (SPU), because of the values that I believe the University reflects through its teachings. The mission of SPU reads, to be a “Christian University fully committed to engaging the culture and changing the world by graduating people of competence and character, becoming people of wisdom, and modeling grace-filled community”. SPU expands upon this mission through their vision, which is “to engage the culture and change the world”. So how will SPU develop such graduates to make such an engaging, positive difference in communities around the world? How will the University implement this mission and vision in a time where there is so much division in our nation? How will the University truly practice these values and implement actions toward equality and cultural engagement? The answer: Authenticity.
I learned that in 2014, the School of Theology at SPU held a service called “Seattle Evangelicals for Racial Justice”. At this service, and following collaborations with various groups and community members, SPU distributed a document expressing the University’s conviction “that God is calling American Christians to engage in renewed advocacy on issues of racial justice”. Seattle Pacific University collaborated with the community to create an authentic Racial Justice Statement that was more than just an organizational diversity and inclusion statement. They created a statement that read more like an actionable plan developed in a way where the very culture and work of the University is reflected in the metrics around the construction of curriculum, and the culture within how that curriculum is taught and represented throughout the University, and the world with which its students touch.
Many institutions of higher learning are developing diversity and inclusion statements. The goal is to present a positive experience for their faculty, alumni and students. Executive leadership coach, Tiffany Houser, stated in an August 2020 article for the US Chamber of Commerce, that “Authenticity creates a path for everyone and a direction. “If you just slap together buzzwords, there may not be anything to anchor into or connect with as possible”. She goes on to say that, “because each statement is authentic to the business, there’s really no template or checklist for what should go in your diversity and inclusion statement. Connect with what your vision looks like—describe it, define it. From there, the action steps will reveal themselves”. That is how Seattle Pacific University authentically approached the issue of racial division. But what about Diversity Training? Isn’t Diversity Training of staff and faculty more actionable than simply crafting a statement that reflects a mission and vision statement?
Seattle Pacific University did not just craft a Racial Justice Statement that aligned in rhetoric with the mission and values the University professes. Seattle Pacific University crafted a statement that leads and measures the culture and educational practices of all the schools that make up the University. Diversity training does not engage culture. Diversity training does not measure change. Dr. Frank Dobbin of Harvard University, in his work with Tidal Equality, a social change and diversity firm in Toronto, Canada, simply stated – “diversity training does not work”. He notes that that there is no evidence that awareness leads to behavior change, and that “there are more than 200 ways cognitive bias affects our actions. And we cannot count the number of ways that dimensions of identity intersect in a given person at a given point in time. The world is waking up to the fact that we cannot train the bias out of anyone”.
I came back to Seattle Pacific University to grow my ability to be a stronger voice for positive and authentic change. I came back to Seattle Pacific University to learn how to engage my voice with different communities and cultures around the world. I hope to discover more institutions of higher learning willing to adopt an authentic practice of equality, and not just checking the box of trainings and seminars to address inequality and division within our communities. And I can’t wait to see how the practice of equality through Seattle Pacific University breeds through every faculty member, student and alumni – and most notably for this author, me.
Healslip, Emily. US Chamber of Commerce (2020, August 17). Writing A Diversity and Inclusion Statement: How To Get It Right. uschamber.com. https://www.uschamber.com/co/start/strategy/writing-diversity-and-inclusion-statement
Liesch, Kristen, Dr. 2020. Don’t Do Unconscious Bias Training. Tidal Equality. https://www.tidalequality.com/blog/dont-do-unconscious-bias-training