[Note: The photo above was taken in August 2019, before COVID pandemic began.]
Union College has reached the seventh week of in-person classes and we are heading toward our semester’s end on November 24. While the COVID-19 virus has commanded all the campus headlines and much of our attention as we uphold strict campus health measures in our classrooms, offices, and residential spaces, we have also focused considerable attention on the topic of diversity. I’d like to share the progress we’re making as our campus community works together toward making Union a place that is truly safe, welcoming and equitable for all.
We believe that the first step is education and understanding. To that end, we devoted a session of our employee meetings at the beginning of the school year to diversity with guest speaker Wendy Hunt, the assistant director for diversity and inclusion at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
In addition, we have commissioned a diversity team to work on issues related to race and culture this school year. Team members include Lorie Escobar, chair; faculty members Ben Holdsworth and Lizz Davis; staff members Santi Fernandez, Roxanne Force and Kim Canine; and students Corine Ilunga Maloba and Jacob Sanchez. The team’s plans for the year include:
- Create listening sessions for students and employees, and develop recommendations for administration to address issues discovered during the sessions.
- Schedule training sessions to help students and employees understand racial diversity and better understand how to treat everyone in our community with respect and equality.
- Inviting speakers for panel discussions and presentations on diversity to campus events.
- Providing designated advocates who will be available for regular office times to listen and help students deal with issues of racial injustice and inequity.
- Celebrating diversity on campus at uGather chapel services, in our student newspaper, on social media, and through videos.
Our faculty development team is also hosting faculty discussions regarding diversity in the classroom. The first in the series took place last week.
I issued a statement following the George Floyd killing early this summer—condemning injustice, racism, inequity, and violence, and highlighting the loving values that Christ taught us. A group of our young alumni sent the college a letter following that incident, asking for Union to put special emphasis on eliminating discrimination and bias in our campus community. We appreciate their concerns and share this desire. A group of administrators met in person with several of the young alumni and spent time discussing the challenges on our campus and ways the college can move forward to create a more inclusive environment for people of color.
As one of the many student clubs on campus, our students have formed a Black Student Union to not only create a safe space on campus for people of color, but to help educate our community about racial issues. A student advisory group for diversity is also forming under the umbrella of the Student Association and the Student Senate. I met with the leaders of these new groups, and I’m pleased to tell you they are focused on helping Union become a better community for people of color. They want to help administrators understand and deal with the issues, and for that I’m very thankful. Working together for the good of our community is a joy.
Union is ranked as one of the most diverse colleges in the Midwest by U.S. News and World Report in their “Best Colleges” rankings for 2021. This rich diversity is one of the things that makes Union special and I am thankful for the enrichment and opportunity it brings to our campus.
In other news about diversity, the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has assembled a group of people from each of North America’s 13 Adventist colleges and universities, and this group is now sharing reading material, resources, and helpful suggestions for diversity work on all our college campuses.
Christ set an example of how we should value everyone from all races, walks of life and cultures. He loved and respected all, regardless of differences, and He bore no prejudice. This is what Heaven will be like. Please pray for Union College as we seek to follow His example by righting wrongs and building a community that is safe for all His children.
Blessings to you,
President, Union College