Liberating the Future of Seminary Part 1b: Diversity Matters


*Faculty Scenario 1*

A junior scholar, a person of color is invited to provide a message for a seminary’s chapel service. In the middle of his homily, he describes instances of institutional racism at churches as he makes the case for racial reconciliation. The crowd grows silent. Students begin to feel uncomfortable. At the end of the message, the audience gives a half-hearted applause. Hours later, on a social networking site, a group is formed, “This Seminary Allows Marxists to Preach in Chapel.”

*Faculty Scenario 2*

New to the Seminary faculty, one scholar of color was hired to run the Chinese Church Studies program. Because she is also the Pauline New Testament scholar on board, she has the double burden of running the CCS, teaching Intro to New Testament, as well as being an advisor for PhD students. In addition, the CCS hosts a yearly summer dinner, where there is a guest speaker who is an expert in Asian religious studies; the said faculty member must use all of her energies to network, inviting Chinese Christians outside the community to join them for this one splendid night. All the while, she is expected to write articles and books, present papers at conferences, and deal with students. Because all of her time is spent trying to grow the fledgling CCS, she is able to produce fewer articles/texts, and thus is less able to compete for tenure. If she neglects her responsibilities at the CCS, she risks losing her job. It’s really a catch-22.

*Faculty Scenario 3*

A teaching assistant for a faculty member, who is a person of color, has been rather stressed out recently. A small number of students are complaining, accusing the professor of reverse racism. “Why does he give us such low grades? Is he racist against white people?” The TA is caught in a bind. Since she grades for the teacher; if she gives good grades to racial minorities, it will be seen as preferential treatment; if she gives A+’s to everyone, the faculty member will question her competence. The outlines for grading are clear. If there is something missing from the outline, points come off of the assignment. The TA is still bothered by comments that she hears. Seems like professors of color have a chip on their shoulder, and take out their rage through grading and having too high standards.

End of scenarios for Seminary Faculty.

“On the other hand, I also cannot write like the badly-treated minority, because I’m not that.”- Gayatri Spivak

In each scenario I presented, each based on true events, I tried to show how much institutional racism defines scholars of color roles. In the first instance, racism compels scholars of color to become act as the prophetic voices for reconciliation and justice, in the second instance, the desire to fight racism through the provision of a safe space for racial minorities is quite time consuming, and is a very lonely affair. In the third story, it shows the two-fold concerns of the image of the professor of color, who is seen as subjective, emotional, angry, and vindictive, while privileged students in the CLASS room vie for even more special treatment through the institutional implementation of grade inflation.

Last week, theologian Kwok Pui Lan wrote a post suggesting how minority scholars could be better able to get published. I suggest you take a look at the post and Pui Lan did point out the responsibilities that are time consuming that minorities have to engage in, this is assuming that the seminary has a [enter the name of the Minority] Church studies program/ Urban Ministry Center/ or [enter the name of the minority] Leadership center.

Pui Lan wrote, “For racial and ethnic minority scholars, finding time to write is such a luxury. Many of us do not teach in research universities and have a heavy teaching load. We are put on all the committees and we have communities of accountability outside the school.”

More than likely, the token minority scholars at seminaries and other religious education institutions are going to be placed on the committee for diversity or multicultural competency committee or racial awareness or urban outreach campaigns. Whatever name these gatherings go by, the goal is the same: to assuage feelings of guilt for the racial exclusion that did take place and is currently happening. If the seminary has more than one (and that’s a rarity in and of itself) selected space for racial minorities, these committees act more like party planning committees, so that the racial Others can spend on night feeding and entertaining the Majority.

Racial stereotypes do matter. I myself have been labeled the Angry Negro because of a presentation I gave on the Enlightenment and pedagogy. Research shows that overall, black professors, particularly black males, are viewed more negatively than their peers. As evangelical theologian Anthony Bradley pointed out in June, persons of color who teach have to worry about appeasing students to avoid scathing class evaluations. This time of racially-tinged, subjective feedback regulates the pedagogical practices of scholars of color.

Quote from Bradley’s summary of the research he provides,

“The most successful attribute for black professors at white colleges is being perceived as “warm” (and non-threatening). If one’s “blackness” scares white students the black professor is doomed. Black professors should not use facial expressions, hand gestures, and the like, that communicate aggression or feed white stereotypes about black people. I wish someone had told me this in graduate school. Black professors will have to put their own cultural norms aside and adopt those that communicate “caring,” and “warmness.” For some, taking acting classes in grad school may be a good idea (I’m unfortunately not kidding).”

Race as a construct is part and partial to the idea that the scholar of color is a commodity. It’s like the black/Latin@/Asian/Korean/First Nations seminary professor is expected to be a babysitter of sorts, and coddling and nursing white students into becoming successful Masters students rather than challenging their embedded theologies and cultural anthropologies. The racialized nature of student feedback at the end of the semester is a form of silencing junior scholars of color who are struggling to earn tenure, i.e., academic freedom to speak truth to power.

The class privilege that comes with being part of the majority also involves the phenomena known as “Grade Inflation.” Grade inflation, or the dispersal of excellent marks going up across the board, means in essence, low expectations and a handcuffing of the fierce humanities. The pressure that scholars of color find placed on them comes from their peers (who don’t want to rock the boat, you know, not bite the hand that feeds them literally), administrators who are solely focused on productivity, and students who use appointments scheduled at the last weeks of class to argue why they should have gotten higher grades. The professors’ success is due in part to how well they negotiate with students, peers, and superiors. Whether it is at the elementary level of schooling where science is being neglected at the private and public levels in favor of teaching kids the basics of reading, writing, and arithematic, to the graduate level theology courses, where just reading textbooks with our liberal/conservative talking points will be enough to get by, grade inflation really means that the market favors a dumbing down of American pastors and laypeople.

Class rules everything around us.

In the next part, part 2, I will look at the current relationship between Masters students’ Vocational Concerns And Academic Interests of scholars/professors and how they interact. For those of you wondering about the constructive portion of this series, there will be part of the last 2 parts, entitled, PRAXIS. I want to have to parts to give my best of a constructive proposal for a Seminary of the Oppressed, liberated for the future.

0 thoughts on “Liberating the Future of Seminary Part 1b: Diversity Matters

  1. Pingback: Seminaries and the Problem of Grade Inflation | Unsettled Christianity

  2. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival 69 (November 2011) | Remnant of Giants

  3. John

    It is my opinion that the author seems obsessed with race. As a jew of european descent who believes on Messiah i know that I’ve been reconciled to all the brethren through Christ irregardless of past injustices (real r perceived) done to me & other jews. No one owes me an apology or “special” academic consideration. Because God has given me a fresh start, I believe that i have a biblical obligation to forgive others irregardless of whether they do r do not solicit that forgiveness. I also do not label myself as a “jewish christian.” I am simply a christian; a sinner justified before God because of Christ’s redemptive work.

    1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

      In my opinion, the commenter seems like he doesn’t know the author of this post very well, and perhaps should do some serious inner reflection before proceeding any further with this conversation.


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