For decades, universities across the nation have seen achieving greater campus diversity as a noble goal.
But now — with a significant shift coming over the next decade in the ethnic makeup of the nation’s high school graduates — many are taking even greater steps to ensure the populations on their campuses more closely resemble the population of the country.
So what is Biola doing to attract and encourage an ever-more-diverse student body? Biola Magazine asked two on-campus experts about this issue and others that universities face on the topic of diversity.
As associate provost for diversity leadership, Pete Menjares leads Biola’s efforts on issues of diversity and also oversees the Office of Multi-Ethnic Programs.
Pete, what has Biola’s attitude been historically on issues of diversity?
Historically, we know that Biola’s founders were very aware of the rich ethnic, cultural and economic diversity that existed in early Los Angeles. This is evident in Lyman Stewart’s bold vision of an inclusive institute cast at the dedication of the cornerstone of the original Bible Institute on Sixth and Hope streets in 1913 with the words, “For the teaching of the truths for which the Institute stands, its doors are to be open every day of the year, and all people, without reference to race, color or class will ever be welcome to its privileges.” Interestingly, that vision was tested in 1924 when the leadership of the Institute was approached by representatives of a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan who were asking for recognition and use of the auditorium. To their request the board of directors gave a resounding “no” and in the process sent a clear message that the Institute was to stand apart from the racism of its day.
What is the biblical basis for encouraging diversity?
There are so many biblical passages that speak to the numerous dimensions of diversity, but if one considers this question just from the standpoint of “difference” then one of the most important biblical bases for this is found in Revelation 5:9-10 and 7:9 where the Scripture is explicit about “men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” as well as the great multitude “from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” This reference is a beautiful vision of heaven and an image that leaves one praying “your kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). On the other hand, there are scriptural injunctions throughout the Bible that speak to justice (Micah 6:8), caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27), avoiding partiality (James 2:1–9), and which demonstrate clearly this work as central to the mission and ministry of Jesus himself (Luke 4:18–21).
What are some of the things Biola is doing to encourage and reflect diversity around campus?
The development of my office was a significant commitment to realizing diversity on our campus. However, I believe that this commitment was motivated by a conviction to take the Bible seriously on matters related to diversity and justice. Philosophically, the university has made the commitment to be intentional in its efforts to diversify the campus since one of the lessons we’ve learned from the past is that diversity does not happen on its own. Programmatically, in the last few years new scholarships for students from diverse backgrounds have been established or increased, new positions have been added to assist in recruiting and retaining a more diverse student body, a “cultural attitudes and climate study” was conducted in the spring semester to help us determine where we need to improve in serving and supporting a diverse student body, and the University has heightened its commitment to recruit and develop a more diverse faculty. We certainly have a long way to go in these areas but we are making marked and steady progress.
The term “racial reconciliation” gets used a lot in evangelical circles. Biola regularly has “reconciliation chapels.” What does this term mean?
Evangelicals such as David Gushee and Brenda Salter-McNeil have written on this topic and basically describe “racial reconciliation” as the process of bringing healing or restoration to broken or damaged interethnic or interracial relationships — a process that includes forgiveness, repentance and justice. Calls to racial reconciliation also include the commitment to build new relationships across racial and ethnic lines where they currently do not exit. The implication of this term for Biola is that racial reconciliation is not simply a sociological or psychological process, but rather it is a spiritual and theological process that reflects the love of God for all people and that motivates us to work for the reality of the “one new man” spoken of in Ephesians 2:15.
A student group recently launched an independent Spanish-language newspaper on campus. Do you see this as a valuable step for Biola?
Yes, I do. I believe that efforts such as this are consistent with Biola’s desire to be a global center for Christian thought and spiritual renewal by encouraging students and faculty to utilize their bilingual abilities to not only educate, but also to prepare our students to impact a world that is becoming increasingly multilingual. Most may not realize that in Los Angeles County, over 54 percent of its 9.5 million residents speak a language other than English in the home. How are we preparing our students to meet this challenge if we do not provide opportunities for them to speak and write in a second language while in school? The Spanish-language news insert is one way to prepare our students, as are the Spanish chapels offered during the year, in addition to the many student ministry opportunities that exist in the communities surrounding the campus.
Pete C. Menjares is Biola’s associate provost for diversity leadership and an associate professor of education. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.
As Biola’s director of undergraduate admissions, Andre Stephens oversees the recruitment and admission of the University’s undergraduate students.
Should ethnic and socioeconomic diversity matter in a student body?
Absolutely! Having diversity helps us all — students, staff and faculty — to learn, to develop, to value and to be challenged by different perspectives. Student diversity helps to give voice to a variety of viewpoints that may not have otherwise been considered, allowing students to expand their worldview and to gain a better understanding of who they are. If we believe that higher education is not just training for a vocation but the shaping of character, the development of the whole person and preparation for life, then diversity is essential to the goals of the university. As Arthur Holmes stated in his classic work, The Idea of a Christian College, the goal is not to indoctrinate students but to give them opportunity to show creativity of mind, to fashion new skills and techniques, new patterns of thought, to help them exercise critical judgments, and give them ability to evaluate and interpret information and to engage in a meaningful way the in the marketplace of ideas.
Why shouldn’t universities just aim to attract the best-qualified students regardless of race or class?
Again, if we believe in the mission of the University and the idea that diversity actually benefits the learning process, then we need to look beyond grades and test scores to include and give opportunity to those who will add thoughtful dialogue and — as a result of differing perspectives/insights — meaningful critique in the classroom, residence halls and other co-curricular activities. The notion that grades and test scores alone determine the merit or qualification of an applicant is a myth. Many factors beyond grades and test scores are reviewed, including — but not limited to — spiritual fit, course curriculum, strength of references, essays, activities and talent areas. We review past achievements and consider student potential in making decisions. Race and ethnicity play only a limited role in this process.
What do high school graduation forecasts tell us about the need to attract more diversity?
The WICHE (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education) data that was recently released identify two important trends. One, the number of high school graduates per year in the West will decline after 2009 through 2015 before we see increases again. Two, the number of white students graduating from high schools will decline while the number of Hispanic/Latino students graduating from high schools will increase for the foreseeable future. Interestingly, Biola enrollment patterns have mirrored the high school graduation rates. When looking at a 30-year history of enrollment at Biola, enrollment has done well when the number of high school graduates was up and we see a decline in our enrollment when the number of high school graduates decreased. What this means for Biola is that we need to “beat” the trend in order to meet our future enrollment goals and we must make inroads primarily in the student populations that we are not currently reaching to encourage students to apply and to enroll at Biola.
What are some of the challenges that universities face in attracting and retaining minority and lower-income students?
There are a number of challenges that are not necessarily unique to students of color. I’ll give a few: increasing tuition rates while state and federal aid remain relatively stagnant; more colleges competing for fewer students of color; students not feeling welcomed or comfortable on campus; few faculty or campus role models for students to connect with; lack of relationship with key churches and leaders in ethnic communities; and indifference — the lack of interest in or care for the value and importance of diversity.
Is there a biblical basis for encouraging diversity?
Definitely! The Bible is full of examples that are relevant for our students, staff, and faculty in this area. Three quick examples: First, we’ve been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5: 16-20). The reality is that there is a history of broken relationships (with God and with our fellow man). God has given us this opportunity through His Spirit to bring reconciliation to those who are still separated from God and reconciliation to one another.
Secondly, in James 2: 1-13 there is clear indication that there was preferential treatment given to some and not to others based on their outward appearance. The Bible says that some had an “attitude” of favoritism. Similarly, today we have those who give or receive preferential treatment — the privileged — because of their economic and/or ethnic/racial status. Unfortunately, most of us default to what we know or what we are comfortable with. What can happen is that we do not consider others who are different. James gives a wake up call to the church in verse 4 not to let the sin of partiality rule or govern even our motives.
Lastly, in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, particularly verses 20 and 21, there is a call to unity so that people would believe that the Father sent Jesus. Here is an example of how being diverse, yet unified, can be a powerful witnessing tool to those who have not received the gospel. It is not a call to uniformity, but rather a call to love one another in spite of our differences that is a testimony to the world. Wow!
What is Biola doing to encourage diversity in enrollment?
There is ongoing research into trends, needs and programs that would be beneficial for students. We have faculty and staff training so we are better equipped to engage and support a diverse student body. There are special on-campus events designed to attract and to retain prospective students who are interested in diversity. There are scholarships for students engaged in multicultural awareness and understanding, which are available to students regardless of race/ethnicity. And we are conducting recruiting events at churches and schools with a volunteer group of current students.
Diversity can be a touchy issue. How does Biola go about increasing the representation of minorities without unfairly penalizing other qualified students?
Currently, every student who is eligible for admission — spiritually and academically — is admitted to the University. We have not excluded some in order to include others. When we talk about diversity or multicultural issues, some have negative connotations. In light of Biola’s mission and our commitment to biblical Christianity, it would be great if we could see our community embrace and encourage the notion of diversity. Unfortunately, some look at any mention of diversity or multiculturalism as the “win-lose” proposition commonly found in the public/political discourse of our communities rather than looking at diversity as a “win-win” proposition. Again, to quote Arthur Holmes, developing qualities of character, courage of one’s convictions, breadth of understanding, openness to new ideas, intellectual honesty about other views and about problems in one’s own, critical thinking skills, and responsible action are part of what a diverse and educated student body can be when we engage in honest and thoughtful dialogue on diversity issues.
If we truly are preparing students to impact the world for Christ, what better way for them to be prepared than by active engagement with students, staff and faculty of different backgrounds who hold in common core beliefs about who Christ is? This variety of perspectives adds to the richness of their academic experience in addition to preparing them spiritually and academically to be relevant in a world that needs Christ.