As the Office of Diversity begins its inaugural year, its leadership team hopes to make the campus a better reflection of the university’s mission and the kingdom of God.
The Office of Diversity is led by Ted Song, coordinator of diversity and innovation, and includes staff members Juan Carlos Rodriguez, associate coordinator of diversity; Lakisha Bradley, assistant coordinator of minority student care; Bridgette Grigsby, assistant coordinator of first-generation Latinx student care; Amanda Cunningham, administrative assistant, and María Aguilar, diversity communication assistant.
Describing the purpose for forming the new office, Song said, “I do believe our community sees diversity as a core value and we want to continue that … We can always have values, but that doesn’t mean we have the perfect culture … It takes everyone to make a culture where the diversity of God’s kingdom is celebrated, promoted and welcomed.”
As the associate coordinator, Rodriguez bring his experiences living as an international student for eight years and working in residence life. He emphasized the importance of diversity work at John Brown University being a group effort. “It’s not something that one person can do,” Rodriguez said. “It takes personal relationships, and sometimes we need to change or tweak the system a little bit.”
The Office of Diversity will work with the already-established Diversity Committee made up of faculty, staff and students from across campus. Song said that the Committee will share their input and ideas with the Office, which will coordinate and implement those plans.
With her role of minority student care, Bradley has a mission of “listening to understand and move with empathy,” primarily focusing on Black and African American students. She is currently researching ways to increase new student recruitment and having one-on-one listening sessions with students of color.
“I want people to know that they can come to my office and just go vent. Welcome to the ‘no judgement zone,’” Bradley said. “You can come here, and you can be your raw, authentic self, speak your truth and know that you are going to receive love the whole time.”
In the spring 2021 semester, Bradley will be co-teaching a one-hour colloquium with Song focused on helping students have conversations on racial and ethnic diversity. The class is open to all majors.
Bringing her experiences as a first-generation student, Grigsby seeks to be a resource for Latinx students navigating college. Grigsby defines Latinx as “a term that we’re using to represent both Latinos and Latinas from all of Latin America—just trying to be inclusive is the heart.”
Through her role, Grigsby will be partnering with Marcos Gutierrez, admissions counselor, in a new initiative, Creciendo Juntos, which means “growing together.” “One of [the goals] is partnering with ambassadors and recruitment,” Grigsby said. “Also creating community on campus for Latino students and those who are commuters … There’s also a desire to involve their parents as much as possible to create a good transition from high school to college because it’s a whole new world.”
When the university announced the new office on social media on Oct. 5, they were faced with waves of positive and negative feedback. While some individuals praised the school for taking a good step forward, others questioned the use of Latinx. Some were concerned that the new office would include representation for LGBTQ students and violate the school’s Community Covenant.
On Oct. 9, the university issued a second statement, stating that the Office of Diversity “will focus on the areas of diversity that are consistent with JBU’s Christian commitments, which are clearly stated in our Articles of Faith, Employee Expectations, Student Handbook and Community Covenant … Among other things, these documents clearly outline JBU’s biblical understanding of sexuality and gender identity, positions that remain consistent with JBU’s historic evangelical identity and the historic teaching of the Church.”
Reflecting on the social media comments, Song said, “We have this office to be intentional because we can always talk about it, but we need some action, too. What this office brings is that we can have intentional decisions as people who are passionate about serving the community.”
Rodriguez shared his hope of the office helping campus to reflect all tribes, languages and nations in heaven. “If you think about it, these are completely different people, and they’re probably worshipping in different languages, in different ways … but we all have the same heart to lay all of our different crowns before Jesus,” Rodriguez said. “That’s a really good image not only to strive for, but we know that’s going to happen because it’s in God’s hands. God will make that happen, so we want to head that way.”