Faculty Receive Training and Converse about Race, Diversity, and Cultural Awareness

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A significant portion of this year’s two-day faculty workshop was devoted to the topics of race, diversity, and cultural awareness. To keep within COVID-19 related restrictions, the faculty were divided into three groups, all of which engaged with the same subject ma er on a rotating basis. Dr. Plummer, dean of the School of Divinity, summarizes below what was covered over those two days.

Central to this year’s training was interaction with Jael K.D.L.V. Chambers, founder of “Cultured Enuf,” a Christian organization focused on helping leaders cultivate and thrive in diverse settings. Via Zoom, Jael led our faculty in a consideration of a variety of forms of bias. One expression that he said is rarely discussed is affinity bias: our tendency to gravitate toward people who are similar to us whether that be in appearances, beliefs, or backgrounds.

Jael also described two kinds of “brains” or mindsets from which we can operate. The first, “survival brain,” has a heightened focus on threats, is uncomfortable with uncertainty, thinks in black and white terms, doesn’t like making mistakes, and is not open to learning new things. Such a mindset is obviously not conducive to a diversity of thought and people. “Learning brain,” on the other hand, is willing to learn new information, is OK with uncertainty, sees the big picture, is excited and curious about learning, and is not afraid of making mistakes.

Part of each group’s time with Jael consisted of breaking up into small groups to discuss the fears, discomforts, and/or concerns that students, the institution, and we personally might have about conversations regarding race, racism, and cultural diversity.

Dr. Jason VanBilliard, senior vice president and provost, also asked three Cairn faculty members to make brief presentations. Professor Kim Jetter, director of Oasis Counseling Services and assistant professor in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, talked about psychological safety, implicit and explicit bias, and how we can unknowingly bring beliefs and preconceived notions to our students. Offering illustrations from her own life at various stages of being a student, she called us to strive to become more aware of our own biases and to ask, “What are some ways I may have unwittingly contributed to disconnection?”

Dr. Juliet Campbell-Farrell, professor in the School of Social Work, offered a presentation on institutional considerations for creating an environment marked by cultural competence, an intolerance of racism in all forms, and an intentionality about ethnic diversity in faculty and course materials.

Finally, I presented some theological considerations on race and ethnicity, expressing my concern that in our highly polarized moment, Christians must be on guard against being discipled by political narratives about race and racism more than the Scriptures, which, while acknowledging the differences between us, tend to focus much more on our commonality in creation, fallenness, and redemption.

Talking about such sensitive subjects is not easy or comfortable. But if anyone should model how to have discussions, it should be the people of God. The days ahead will consist of further conversations about these matters. Please pray for us as we have them.