Credit : Brooke Baldwin

Campus Leaders Introduce New Diversity Initiatives Following Summer of Racial Trauma

As the coordinator of diversity and innovation, Ted Song enters into his new position with a desire for inclusion.

“We want to reflect the diversity of the region Northwest Arkansas and also the diversity of the nation. That means we would love to see more students of color come to JBU and have this fellowship in Christ,” Song said. “That’s what we see in Revelation. We see all people from all nations coming together and worshipping Christ at the same time, so that’s a beautiful picture.”

Song began the role in July following the departure of Marquita Smith, former coordinator of diversity relations. Smith now serves as the assistant dean for graduate programs at the University of Mississippi. In addition to this new position at JBU, Song serves as an associate professor of engineering and as department chair of the undergraduate engineering, computer science, and cybersecurity programs and the graduate cybersecurity program.

One of the first tasks Song seeks to complete is updating the university’s diversity statement. “I would love to see how our statement is more theological,” Song said. “Our mission is to prepare students to honor God and serve others, so how is diversity connected to our mission of the institution?”

Full of racial trauma and tragedy, this summer included murders of Black men and women by police officers and attacks and harassment toward Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans. These events, along with his experiences as a Korean American, have shaped Song’s approach toward student care for this academic year.

“I’m always available for a conversation, so people can come to me or other faculty of color if they want to discuss about racial challenges or incidents that they’ve experienced in their town or even in Arkansas,” Song said. “Not everyone, but some people of color prefer to discuss these topics with other people of color because there’s some shared common experience.”

Driven by these shared experiences, Song, along with members of the Diversity Committee, created chapel groups designed to support students of color that are led by faculty and staff of color. Although there have been perceptions that students of color are required to be in these specific groups , Song sought to emphasize that they are an option, not a mandate.

“I know some students of color who feel much more comfortable when they are with other people of color, especially when there is a topic that’s directly related to their family members or whatever that it is,” Song said. “Some faculty and staff of color wanted to be available for conversations like that … We’re not pushing people one way or the other. We wanted to say we are available if you’re interested. If not, that’s okay.“

Song has also formed a new partnership with University Marketing & Communications to increase collaboration about diversity and inclusion.

Julie Gumm, director of University Marketing & Communications, joined the Diversity Committee this year. Gumm seeks to raise awareness about the ongoing diversity work at JBU, including the approximately $3.1 million endowed scholarship for underrepresented students created in 2011. “No one is trying to say there aren’t more changes … but I realized that the students feel like enough is not being done,” Gumm said. “We’re trying to fix the communication of the things that are happening so that the students know about them.”

María Aguilar, junior photojournalism major, will be serving as the diversity communications assistant to Gumm, in order to bring student perspectives to their work. Their current project is updating the university website’s section on diversity to include information on the members of the Diversity Committee and a form for feedback. They will also create more social media posts highlighting the diverse backgrounds of students at JBU.

Both Gumm and Song emphasized that they desire to hear about the good and bad experiences of students of color. “Students are welcome to give us input, and we will definitely consider whatever we can do to serve students. My role is to really help or serve students,” Song said. 

Song underscored the significance of diversity for everyone at JBU. “When we say diversity, some people think that that’s really for the people of color and it’s their agenda. It’s a great thing for them. But what I want to say is it’s good for everyone because you gain different perspectives,” Song said. “Think about the kingdom. Christ said make disciples of all nations, and, if you’re trying to make disciples of all nations, you have to know all nations.”

Photo: Brooke Baldwin, The Threefold Advocate