Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education: A Case Study of Multicultural Organizational Development through the Lens of Religion, Spirituality, Faith, and Secular Inclusion

Article excerpt


This is the second in a three-part series focusing on the topic of Christian privilege. In the first article, the concept of Christian privilege was introduced and strategies were suggested for challenging and beginning to effect its resolution in the public education and workplace context through an examination of: (1) climate concerns; (2) policy and law; and (3) training and education (Clark, Brimhall-- Vargas, Schlosser, &Alimo, 2002). The third article will focus on the secularization of Christianity and its impact on the perpetuation of Christian privilege.

This article undertakes a case study of the University of Maryland Office of Human Relations Programs' (OHRP) efforts to confront Christian privilege and build a religiously, spiritually, faith-based, and secularly inclusive community within OHRP and across campus. It is a firstperson narrative describing my perspective, as the Executive Director of OHRP, in facilitating a change process for my staff in which I was also a participant. This change process was directed toward creating a plan of action for celebration that affirms religious, spiritual, faith-based, and secular diversity.

Additionally, this article pays special attention to the process through which change efforts were undertaken to ensure that both the confrontation of, and resolution to, Christian privilege honored the complexities of multiple social identities, especially those embedded in a juxtaposition of Christian privilege with race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic oppression.


OHRP is the University of Maryland's version of an Office of Multicultural Affairs. Its point of entry into multicultural affairs work is built from the integration of multicultural and social justice education. The essence of what this means is that OHRP takes a sociopolitical or progressive approach to multicultural affairs work. Or, said another way, it considers issues of power, oppression, and privilege in seeking to create a multiculturally inclusive and socially just campus community and society.

It is extremely important to note that even in the multicultural and social justice arena, the issue of Christian privilege and the struggle to create religiously, spiritually, faith-based, and secularly inclusive communities are still relatively new areas of diversity-related learning and action (Clark, Brimhall-Vargas, Schlosser, & Alimo, 2002). As such, these areas are treated differently than, for example, those along the lines of race, socioeconomic class, and gender have been.

"Differently" in this instance means with less directness, honesty, and confidence. While sociopolitically-oriented multicultural and social justice education have long confronted White, class, and gender privilege boldly, openly, and unequivocally, when it comes to Christian privilege, it seems we stutter and stumble, suddenly unsure of what is okay to say or do (Nieto, 2000; Sleeter, 1996). The reason underlying this difference is not monolithic, but three-pronged.

The first part of this difference can be attributed to the influence of the theory of the "hierarchy of oppressions" that has long operated in the left wing of multicultural and social justice education (Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 1997). This theory suggests that some forms of discrimination, namely socioeconomic class-based and race-based, and sometimes gender-based, forms are more serious than others; such as those related to sexual orientation, disability, and-yes-religion, spirituality, faith, and secularity. In being socially constructed as more serious, especially classbased and race-based forms of discrimination are confronted, almost without apology, for the often painful impact of that confrontation on the people whose identities afford them race and class privilege. On the other hand, those socially constructed as less serious forms of discrimination are typically confronted more gingerly, taking into consideration the range of potential outcomes such confrontation might have on those empowered by, say, homophobia, able-body status, and/or Christianity. …