MISHAWAKA—During the past few months, racial tension in our country has soared. Shootings, protests and riots have frequently dominated the media.
But even before all this turbulence began, Bethel was already initiating various initiatives to help students to stay aware of these important topics and to help them personally take action against racism.
“I think it’s just God’s timing,” said Shawn Holtgren, vice president for student development.
Holtgren developed the name for the series and played a large role in choosing the speakers.
“We wanted to give students a window into somebody else’s life, walk around in somebody else’s shoes,” Holtgren said. “I want to be able to peer into someone else’s world while gazing at my own... I want to empathize with where you’re coming from, but I’ve got to critique my own experience.”
Bethel University President Gregg Chenoweth spoke for the opening chapel of the series.
“This has been a problem for our country, always,” Chenoweth said. “But this is one of those moments again where there’s a spike of awareness.”
Chenoweth said he believes Bethel is a great place for students to learn and grow in this difficult topic.
“I think very optimistically about Bethel not as only an organization that is transactional... I’d hope we’d be transformational, not just for students, but for our community,” Chenoweth said.
Chenoweth encouraged students to reach out to their peers, to go beyond being friendly with people of color to being friends; he said this is one of the most eye-opening things someone can do.
“I have found that an attitude change is so much harder to accomplish than programming a series like this,” Chenoweth said. “The real project is attitude change.”
Bethel is looking to take a stand beyond chapel as well; the Bethel University Board of Trustees is preparing an official statement that will be published in late October. Furthermore, Bethel will be including a new “inclusion in the classroom” section in each syllabus beginning in January.
“What we’re trying to say is, our faculty are committed to this,” said Chenoweth. “There are moments in classrooms where there are opportunities to educate students... in cultural awareness.”
Bethel is also preparing a civil rights immersion experience to be launched in the spring that will be organized by the Diversity and Inclusion Council. This will allow a small group of students to tour the American South to see locations significant to the civil rights movement.
“To be able to be there and experience that could be very powerful for the individuals,” Chenoweth said. “But part of the deal is, those individuals who are chosen then come back to campus... we’ll ask them to speak to a minimum of two if not three groups.”
Another step Bethel is taking is a workforce diversity initiative.
“I want to be very clear that the goal with this is not a quota, the goal’s not the outcome, the goal’s opportunity,” Chenoweth said. “What we want to do is we want to make sure when Bethel is hiring, that the pipeline of candidates includes people of color.”
As Chenoweth reflects on his own life, he is grateful for all the measures Bethel is taking and hopes students realize the importance of the issue.
“I wish someone had taken me aside when I was your age and talked to me about this,” Chenoweth said. “I wish that back then I had a clearer awareness of what it meant to live in a culture that treats people differently based on their skin and what the very optimistic aspirational motivating vision the gospel is on this.”
Holtgren hopes students can realize the importance this plays in their Christian walk.
“This is not just a race issue,” Holtgren said. “I think this is a Christian thing to do.”