Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Aligning Faith with Diversity: Messiah College, a Small, Liberal Arts Christian School in Pennsylvania, Has Made Diversity a Priority

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Aligning Faith with Diversity: Messiah College, a Small, Liberal Arts Christian School in Pennsylvania, Has Made Diversity a Priority

Article excerpt

Messiah College--a small, liberal arts Christian college located in Pennsylvania, just a few miles from Harrisburg--has always prided itself on its longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.

For years, the college had a special assistant to the president and provost for diversity affairs. But it wasn't until this year that the school's president, Dr. Kim S. Phipps, elevated the post to a cabinet-level position and recruited Dr. Todd A. Allen to the position.

Allen, who also holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Communication, is spearheading the college diversity initiatives.

"As a faith-based institution, we are committed to a holistic education," says Phipps who has been president of Messiah since 2004 and previously served as the school's provost.

"We care about developing students intellectually, personally and spiritually, and when it comes to diversity and inclusive excellence, we believe that the commitments we have is a spiritual one, because the kingdom of God is a diverse one where all cultures are celebrated."

Allen, who had been a professor of communication studies and worked on diversity initiatives at several other Christian colleges, was initially skeptical of doing diversity work at a faith-based institution.

"I vowed I would never do this kind of work for Christian colleges ever again," says Allen. "Being a person of faith, I take my faith very seriously. I can get it if I'm talking to someone who is not a person of faith and I get a lot of pushback around being inclusive and accepting of others. But it adds another layer of frustration when it's a brother or sister of faith. The irony is that most of the resistance that I've got has been from people of faith."

Convinced that Christian colleges just weren't serious about doing the hard work related to diversity and inclusion, Allen says that he was a bit cautious when Phipps--whom he had first met almost 20 years ago--began recruiting him to the college.

But after examining the college's efforts around diversity, under Phipps' leadership, he says that he was convinced that the college was heading in the right direction.

"I started looking at what she's got in place, and it's not perfect, but there have been a variety of things put forth," says Allen. "There has been a really solid foundation laid here. That combined with the ability to partner with others, I just could not say no."

Already making a difference

College officials say that Allen--who also holds a faculty appointment in communication studies--is already making an impact one semester after arriving.

"I've already seen the benefits of his being at the table when certain key issues come up," says Phipps, adding that she became increasingly convinced that the person spearheading the college's diversity and inclusion efforts needed to be a part of the cabinet, involved in day-to-day decision making and interfacing with the college's board of trustees. "He brings a perspective that's very important and that we need to hear."

The college has already gone through two cycles of strategic planning around diversity efforts.

"We did a lot of things that a lot of higher institutions are doing, from anti-racist training to intercultural competency training, working on doing things to improve campus climate, student support groups, all those things," says Phipps. "When you work on inclusive excellence, there is a personal and spiritual dimension to it, not just an intellectual one and the work is not only intellectual, but is heart work. …

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