Few people made it through 2020 without a better understanding of white privilege and racial inequities. National, then global, protests filled news headlines; racial documentaries rose to the top of the Netflix most watched queue and people of color shared enlightening, personal stories on social media. Anyone who has been willing to listen now knows a little more about living as a minority in America.
“I am more aware of racism now than ever before,” said President John deSteiguer. “Overcoming racism is important to me. I know that I am ill equipped because I’m not a victim. But, because of the opportunities that I have as president, I am more responsible to make a difference.”
President deSteiguer launched a diversity initiative in 2019, which included inviting Robert Edison to OC as a visiting professor of African American Studies. A passionate historian, Edison was among eighteen students who were expelled from Oklahoma Christian College after a peaceful civil rights protest in 1969. Edison embodied God’s grace in his willingness to teach students on the same campus that previously rejected him.
“Anytime you diminish people, you’re not following God’s desire for how we should live. Love God. Love others,” said deSteiguer. “We have a responsibility to make OC and our people as close to God as possible. ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’”
During his year as visiting professor, Edison joined the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) task force, a group of about a dozen faculty, staff and student DEI council members. deSteiguer commissioned the group to work toward building a campus that more closely reflects the diversity of the body of Christ. They named the group Imago Dei, Latin for image of God. Within one year, the committee implemented internal, campus-wide training; offered reading groups; invited off-campus voices to speak on topics of inclusion; kicked-off a DEI student council; improved the university Title VI reporting process and began work on the OC Center for Diversity, slated to open fall 2021.
The president’s diversity initiative hopes to build on History Speaks, an annual event highly anticipated by our campus and local community. Founded by Assistant Dean of Students Gary Jones in 2014, well known, powerful voices of the civil rights movement are invited to campus. The announcement of the year’s speaker/s is like unveiling a carefully guarded secret.
“History Speaks is one of our greatest annual events. Gary Jones has introduced us to heroes who talked about courage, sacrifice, perseverance, overcoming and forgiveness,” said deSteiguer.
One of those heroes, JoAnne Bland headlined History Speaks 2021 via a virtual broadcast filmed in her hometown of Selma, Alabama. It was the first time the event was not held in front of a capacity crowd in Baugh Auditorium. Bland, a freedom fighter who became a civil rights champion as a child, challenged all who attended the virtual event online.
“You cannot sit back and do nothing,” Bland said. “If you see injustice against someone, you better be on your feet.”
Bland told us that affecting change starts with inviting all of the voices to have a seat at the table. Look to see who is missing from the table. Consider the diversity of age, gender, race and ideals. Invite these different perspectives in to create a place that is truly diverse and equitable.
Bringing diversity to the table of OC’s Board of Trustees has been an intentional way to invest in the future of this campus as a reflection of God’s creation. Among the 33 board members, eight are women and five are people of color.
“Board representation is about long-term investment that will bring about lasting diversity initiatives,” said deSteiguer.
Edison and Gary Smith are the most recent voices of diversity to join the Board of Trustees. Smith brings a wealth of experience as the founder of Discovery Youth Foundation which provides enrichment programs and mentoring for teens emphasizing career exposure, entrepreneurship, college preparation and life skills. He is the senior minister of Fifth Ward Church of Christ in Houston, Texas, a church known for its massive outreach efforts in partnership with Campaign for Christ, which Smith co-chairs. The group coordinates with over fifty churches to maximize their collective impact!
OC’s stance for diversity, equity and inclusion is summed up by Imago Dei. We aim to be a campus that truly reflects the image of God in everything that we do and build a community that is eventually as diverse as the body of Christ.