Building Inclusive and Diverse Campus Communities – Kevin Lowry

17 Apr

EveryoneWelcome2

In our ministries and on our campuses we build community. We bring together people who are seeking truth and meaning in their lives. We come together to celebrate our differences, our commonalities, and life’s profound and meaningful moments. Our community is strengthened and enriched by the unique gifts that we bring and the fellowship that we share with each other. Having a diverse community strengthens and enriches the communion that each of us shares and in turn strengthens ourselves as individuals. Bringing together a community that is assorted in worldviews, race, gender, sexuality, life experiences, faith expression, and religious perspectives creates an environment that challenges us to go beyond our current selves and to build a beloved community that is rooted in love and non-violence.

The Unitarian Universalist minister, Reverend Gail Lindsay Marriner says, “Humans are relational beings: like it or not we are always embedded in community. This is good because it means that by tending to our community we also support our own well-being. Creating stronger relationships and a vibrant commons gives all of us and each of us a better quality of life. Nurture what is better in the community and we arrive at better for each individual.”  Building a welcoming community fosters a culture of interconnection and mutual support. It also provides a place where we reveal our commonalities and can celebrate our differences. We share our whole selves in public witness to the unique gifts that each of us bring to share. As we come together in a covenantal relationship of shared respect and responsibility we continue the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., creating a just and equitable culture where people are free of discrimination and have shined their light on the darkness of hate and oppression.

In a welcoming community we have the responsibility to leave our presumptions at the door and the opportunity to welcome each other into a shared communion. This welcome culture will ultimately create a just community that is rooted in love and compassion.  Reverend King dreamed of a beloved community that would be an atmosphere in which individuals and groups live in an inclusive spirit of sister and brotherhood, free from discrimination and hate. The differences that each of us bring to a community do not drive us apart but connect us together. Our differences allow us to grow, explore, and discover together.

Our communities, whether rooted in a faith tradition or secular union, are incubators to grow the inclusive spirit of unconditional love. They foster experiences that are unique, dynamic, and energetic opportunities to be in common with each other. By doing so we learn from our differences and engage deeply with individuals whose life experiences differ from our own. Through these experiences we will be transformed by the compassion for our fellow beings and realize our connectedness with the world around us.  For me, an example of this transformation happened recently as The College of Wooster came together as a campus to respond to the grand jury finding of officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. I found myself, for the first time, at a meeting where I was the only white person in the room. As I listened to the experiences, anger, and mistrust of the students of color I was working with, I came to realize that this was not my experience and that I had to confront my own unearned privilege. This transformative moment affirmed my call to building inclusive and equitable communities at the College as well as the larger community.

 

Whether involved in a faith community, community organization, or college campus, we must develop a climate that is radically inclusive, has the realization of equity, and is rooted in unconditional love. The idea of radical inclusivity is the idea of welcoming everyone into community and acknowledging that each of us bring unique gifts to share with each other. It is the idea that, through both the act of receiving and giving, community is formed. It is the understanding that each of us has something to offer and through this our community is whole. The realization of equity is the notion that everyone has the same opportunity and support to achieve his or her highest potential. In equitable communities all people regardless of economic background, religious affiliation, ethnicity, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation, or race are fully recognized and valued. A community rooted in unconditional love has a foundation of compassion, mutual support, and fellowship. It is the understanding that what binds us all together is love and connection.

The global community in which we live is a rich treasure-trove of unique and diverse experiences, worldviews, and perspectives. As we come together in fellowship we must welcome the stranger in our midst. We come together to honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person and the gifts that he or she bring to the community. Regardless of the kind of community we are in, it is our work to welcome whoever may come through the doors of our sanctuary to be part of our community. As leaders of integrity and influence, it is our work to create safe places where people can have hard conversations and engage in meaningful dialogue that challenges assumptions, acknowledges differences, and exposes commonalities. We must rejoice in the gifts that each of us brings as individuals working towards a peaceful and just global community. It is in this act of celebration that we affirm the people in our community for who they are and the diversity they bring to our community, an act that strengthens us as both as a group and as individuals.

In this global community, spiritual and religious movements must play a role in being the voice of equity and inclusion. We must challenge the unearned privilege that is afforded to some and marginalizes others. We cannot not sit idly by and hope to have diversity within our communities. Diversity does not happen because we put a sign up on Sunday welcoming all to our congregations. Diversity does not happen because it is in our mission statements.  Diversity is achieved when we build a culture and climate of inclusivity and equity within our communities. Diversity is created in our congregations when we welcome, without reservation, the strangers, seekers, and broken among us. Diversity is created when we listen to the young, clothe the poor, care for the marginalized, and love unconditionally.

Professionally, as leaders of character and influence in a global community we have the responsibility to be radically inclusive and model equitable relationships. Our task as faith and spiritual leaders is to go above and beyond to ensure every person feels welcome and safe in our sanctuaries. As the UU Campus Mentor, the challenge, as I work with emerging adults, is to be a model for the inclusive spirit and to be a voice that challenges injustice and calls for action. I strive to acknowledge that these young people who are at the beginning of their spiritual journey and forming their identities are welcome into a safe and inclusive environment that will foster their growth and discovery and recognize their inherent value.  I attempt to provide a sanctuary that will give them rest and comfort but challenge their assumptions and allow them to question and explore.

As the landscape of religious affiliations changes across our college campuses and in our larger society, it is my responsibility at The College of Wooster to once again provide safe zones, where people are able to engage in dialogue with people who have a different religious perspective, faith expression, or humanistic worldview.  It is my responsibility to foster the spirit of inclusion and create a culture of equity as part of the fabric of the campus community. Our colleges and universities should be models for this idea of Beloved Community. Students working to build networks of just communities that will take their influence in to the greater world and be models for inclusion as this generation navigates the path of their vocational goals.

Creating diverse communities, which are inclusive and equitable, enables us to welcome people into our sacred places without reservation. It allows for rich and vibrant conversations. It creates an engaged and dynamic congregation that engages the individual in action beyond themselves. It celebrates the gifts that we both give and receive.  Diversity builds a strong culture that is rooted in love and justice for all people and the world around us. When we model these communities in our Fellowships, we not only strengthen the community but we strengthen ourselves. We are transformed by the inclusive spirit of love into people of faith, people of compassion, and people of action.
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