Defining diversity at Fresno Pacific

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FPU moves to prioritize diversity amid competing ways of understanding the term

Amid new diversity initiatives at Fresno Pacific, The Syrinx has investigated the steps being taken to address diversity issues and how the various constituents of the university understand diversity. FPU’s efforts in this area were among many examined earlier this semester by a team of accreditors, during their visit to campus. In their 2015 action letter to the university, WASC (the accreditation agency that evaluates FPU) identified “the need for a shared vision for diversity with more campus-wide, systematic training on multiculturalism, diversity issues, and intercultural competence.” The letter further instructed FPU "to begin aggressive work on developing a unified vision for diversity, including a clearer definition of the role of the University Diversity Committee.” 

Diversity is one of the pillars of Fresno Pacific’s current plan. According to the plan, students, employees and board alike will be “characterized by racial, ethnic, socio-economic background, age, sex, abilities, and Christian faith diversity, and these persons will feel they belong and have access to full and equitable participation in university life”. However, there are many views on the meaning of diversity and how diversity initiatives should be implemented around the school.

Students’ understanding of diversity ranges from the disregard of demographic diversity to highlighting the need for spaces to be shaped by people of different backgrounds.

The Office of Spiritual Formation (OSF) added diversity to its title after being identified as the place where diversity work happens, and now shapes the university’s official ministry and diversity work. The University Diversity Committee (UDC), which contains representatives from various faculty and staff members in order to facilitate diversity communication, crafted a diversity rationale statement in 2015, stating there are “three particular bases for diversity at FPU: the Bible as our authoritative guide for life, the FPU Idea and core values, and current research regarding diversity in higher education”.

Different Definitions of Diversity

In a survey taken by students of two different general education courses and one focus series course, participants anonymously responded with their definitions of diversity, as well as their perception of its different aspects at work in FPU. When defining diversity, responses ranged from “assimilation of all nationalities and cultures in[to] a given environment” to  “an individual decision to move out of your comfort zone … in order to embrace others around you” to “having a range of [people of] different races, cultures, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status, and providing a space that is welcoming to all of those things”. Other definitions included “not using differences as a factor” and prioritizing “diversity of thought” over “superficial diversity, such as skin color, religious beliefs and gender”.

As an institution, Fresno Pacific seeks to approach diversity work through a biblical lens and has committed itself to “kingdom diversity”, a framework that is unique to FPU. Defined by Angulus Wilson, campus pastor and chief diversity officer (CDO), said kingdom diversity is the “biblical shalom with God and biblical shalom with man”.

“We [should] submit ourselves to serve one another as a way towards peace,” Wilson said,  “At the cross everybody is brought together through what God is doing on the earth, [which is] reconciling men back to himself. It came out of the FPU idea, out of who we are as a university and what we do.”

Andrew Shinn, who teaches in the School of Business and serves on the UDC’s executive group, echoed this sentiment, saying that “we’re working to bring the diverse kingdom of God on Earth”.

According to Wilson, secular diversity “separates, segregates, and subjugates”

In comparison, according to Wilson, secular diversity “separates, segregates, and subjugates”. “It comes from the evil one who likes to keep us divided,” Wilson said. He further explained that secular diversity, by nature, “separates people into groups based on a racial construct, segregates based on a system of class and preference, and subjugates people to adhere to a system of rules created by a dominant group”.

“The whole thing is wrong and birthed from the fall of man,” Wilson said, “In the kingdom all are one in Christ and there’s one identity and it’s the identity of God.”

Diversity and Spiritual Formation Tied Together

Fresno Pacific is one of the only schools in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) to merge their diversity office and their spiritual formation offices together. Schools such as Azusa Pacific and Biola University, according to their websites, separate their spiritual life-centered office from their diversity-focused office. Wilson stated that the long-term plan is to keep the two offices combined and that they do not want different areas of the university to be distinctly separate. “[It should be] when we do academic work, we’re doing the work of spiritual formation, we’re engaging in diversity,” Wilson said.

Dr. Quentin Kinnison, associate professor and chairperson of the Biblical & Religious Studies division, thinks that having a combined diversity office is a good first step, but foresees potential limitations with this set up.

“I think that there are challenges at FPU in particular because of the way those things (diversity and spirituality formation) have been conflated that tend to isolate diversity in a particular office, and that doesn’t necessarily get disseminated across the campus. It creates a different kind of difficulty that makes it harder for OSFD to accomplish its spiritual formation goals and diversity goals, and that’s not because you don’t have good people trying to do good work,” Kinnison said. “This may be a good initial step. We haven’t had an office of diversity here at FPU, [but] I personally don’t think this is the long term place for it to land.”

Instead, Kinnison envisions two separate offices that work collaboratively as a way of “doing justice to the diversity issues on this campus”.

According to Wilson, the offices combined because accreditation officials and “experts” pointed out that what was then-OSF demonstrated “what diversity looks like”. Wilson said initially the OSF ministered to students on the fringes, who were often not of the majority culture, and because of this they naturally drifted to the office. Students dealing with past traumatic events, such as those leaving prison or veterans, found a home in the office. “We’ve always been doing this [diversity] work,” Wilson said.

President Jones, in the 2018 Spiritual Formation and Kingdom Diversity Report, said “We intentionally integrated diversity with the Office of Spiritual Formation and Diversity because the framework for nurturing one area impacts the maturing of the other. Our commission to love one another reaches beyond emotional affinity and compels us to engage others beyond our comfort levels.”

Diversity Work at an Institutional Level

FPU’s official interpretation of diversity work can be seen in the 2018 Spiritual Formation and Kingdom Diversity Report. This report demonstrates the initiatives from the Office of Spiritual Formation and Diversity (OSFD) that are meant to “engage the cultures and serve the cities”; it cited international services, college hours and chapel services that provided “multicultural ministry” and various summer Latinx programs.   

FPU is stuck in “hospitality mode” rather than focusing on the long-term goal of  “mutual flourishing”

Kinnison thinks that FPU is stuck in “hospitality mode” instead of focusing on the long-term goal of “mutual flourishing”, where people from diverse backgrounds can “shape the environment” rather than be the “perpetual guest”. Kinnison pointed out the lack of diversity in faculty and senior administration; there are no Hispanics or Latinos in a President’s Cabinet serving a university with more than 40% Hispanic or Latino students. To that point, according to Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems (IPEDS), a system of interrelated surveys conducted annually by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, Fresno Pacific’s faculty as of November 2017 is 76% white and 6% Hispanic or Latino.

Brian Davis, an associate pastor of spiritual formation, said that the faculty needs to reflect more of the student population’s diverse makeup. Wilson also stated that progress at the administrative level is happening, referencing his position as the CDO, who reports directly to the president.

“Diversity becomes everybody’s work,” Wilson said, “It’s [about] key people in key positions hiring individuals to come in and work and embody the ethos of the campus.”

Miguel Montoya, a sophomore Criminal Justice major, was critical of the lack of provided spaces for some parts of the diverse student population. “We don’t have a platform for LGBTQ students, or students who stuggle with alcholism because of depression or trauma. It’s an institutional problem. FPU doesn’t even have to ‘agree’ with them, but they can still give them a voice,” he said.

Michaela Gregory and Chad Brennan, co-facilitators of diversity trainings and workshops through ReNew Partnership, think change needs to be recognized by those in power for any systemic transformation to occur, and this recognition can come through cross-cultural relationships.

“Individuals are operating within the system, so it’s going to be individuals that understand that the system is broken, but if it doesn’t seem broken to you it’s because you don’t know anybody that the system is affecting or hurting and you’re gonna continue on feeling like everything is fine,” Gregory said.

Why Diversity Matters

Kinnison thinks diversity can make the environment itself stronger, mentioning evidence observed in biospheres.

“Each person’s own distinct, unique difference is a contribution to the larger. For instance, we know that, in biological environments, that diversity makes an environment stronger because it allows it to adapt more quickly to changes around it, whereas those environments that are less diverse and less difference adapt poorly,” Kinnison said.

“I want students learning alongside students who are not like them . . .”

Shinn highlighted that diversity enriches the experience of attending a university. “I want students learning alongside students who are not like them. The whole enterprise of going to university is the idea of opening your mind and expanding it, and that happens when you’re doing that alongside people with vastly different viewpoints,” he said. He also emphasized diversity as a source of strength because “more solutions are available when more voices are at the table”.

Moving Forward

Kinnison understands diversity work involves persistence and continual reflection.  “We’ve inherited a beautiful heritage from our founders, with a view towards a diverse horizon, but it comes with a certain framework that requires to be adapted and revisted in order to get to that horizon,” Kinnison said. “I think that’s where part of institutional struggles occur: how much adaptation is too much adaptation, and what gets sacrificed in that process?”