As I wrote in yesterday’s blog, I was part of an online symposium on the theme of “The ‘End’ of the University”. Each of the groups (representing faculty and others meeting on eight different campuses across the Midwest) were encouraged to write responses. This is not one of those but a personal reflection on one aspect of Dr. Santa Ono’s presentation. One of the aspects of the changing university landscape he addressed was the increasing diversity represented in the student enrollment as well as faculty and staff of any public university in this country. By 2040 or sooner, Caucasians will be in the minority, and already are in some parts of the country. Universities are incredibly diverse places ethnically, in terms of social class, in terms of gender and sexual orientation, in terms of political persuasions, in terms of countries of origin–and in terms of religious and worldview beliefs. As part of a group of Christians considering our response to these changes, it seems to me that we could (and do) make one of three responses.
The first is to try to hold onto being the privileged majority. Indeed, as I’ve been involved in multi-faith discussions on the campus where I work, I’ve found that others still regard Christians, and particularly Caucasian Christians in those terms. At one time this was most definitely so, particularly before the Civil War, and even in many respects up until the upheavals on campuses in the mid-1960s. Much of the perception of this ‘privilege’ I think comes out of our political scene up through the Bush II years and the close alliance between some segments of the Christian community and the party in power. Vestiges of this sense of privilege may be reflected in our expectation that Christian holidays be recognized on public calendars, that prayers be a part of public events and in the “Christian nation” rhetoric we use. What is most troubling to me is that privilege seems to be utterly antithetical to those who follow the Jesus “who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant….and became obedient unto death.”
The second is to take the stance of the persecuted minority. This is not to say that persecution is not a real option for Christians. In many parts of the world today Christians are in prison, tortured and killed for their faith. They deserve our prayers and our advocacy. But we should not confuse our present situation in the US with theirs because in so doing we demean their suffering and faithfulness. Certainly, people speak pejoratively of Christian belief and particular groups of Christians. But I’m not certain that this is any worse than some of the speech I hear inside the Christian community about others. In some cases groups have been denied access on campus because of their faith stance. Faced with this, I’ve advocated against such decisions as inimical to the freedoms of all students, not just Christians. But again, I think it is demeaning to call this persecution. Many Christian student movements around the world don’t have “access” and yet have great impact. Furthermore, I think this stance leads us to an attack/defense mentality that turns others into adversaries to be defeated rather than those who differ with us to be engaged who even have the possibility of changing their beliefs.
I would advocate for a third stance, that of participating members in the university community, who seek its welfare and consider themselves co-participants in the pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty, ideals to which every university aspires. One of the things that this means is that I treat others who are in this same community by virtue of their student, faculty or staff status as equal co-participants in that endeavor. I think this means that we co-labor to make the university good and safe places for everyone present, not just for us. As Christians, we should care deeply that internationals on our campuses are not exploited, that adjuncts receive a just wage for their training and contribution to student learning, that no one should be bullied because of their orientation. We should be among those advocating that the children of all our citizens be represented proportionately in our student bodies, not just the children who enjoyed the advantages of the best schools, and college prep tutoring.
Many of our student and faculty groups actually receive substantial benefit from the university community and we should consider how we are “paying it forward” (in good Woody Hayes terms!). I would hope that we are known among administrators as people who make the university a better place, not as headaches or as isolated groups meeting off in a corner of campus. I would also advocate that we be people who not only forthrightly speak of our own faith and desire that others embrace it but eagerly listen to the dissenting views of others and engage in respectful conversation that promotes understanding and enriches everyone in the dialogue.
Above all, I think this means loving the places where we work. I am neither a graduate of nor an employee of The Ohio State University but people who know me swear I bleed scarlet and grey. It’s not just about sports! I believe when God calls us to a place, he calls us to love the place and its people as mattering deeply to Him. I don’t know how we can possibly give ourselves to the pursuit of goodness, truth and beauty without that love.
[As with all my posts, the views expressed here are my own and reflect neither those expressed in the Symposium nor held by the sponsoring organization or any other entities.]