Editor’s Note: As we begin a new semester, ESN seeks to support Christian scholars seeking to act justly as teachers and researchers. Later in January, we plan to post a longer reflection by a friend of ESN who is giving deep thought to these issues. As the semester starts, ESN writer Katelin Hansen makes some reading and teaching suggestions.
As we continue to process last year’s heartbreaking news stories, Christians on academic campuses can play an important role in the ongoing process of lament and reform taking place. From Michael Brown in Missouri, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Renisha McBride in Michigan, and Oscar Grant in California, to Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in Florida, Reekia Boyd in Illinois, John Crawford and Tamir Rice in Ohio, and Eric Garner in New York. No matter where you are across the country, chances are there have been incidents such as these that have touched your campus community. The following are some things to keep in mind as we live into our vocation as Christians in academia.
Being in an academic setting brings tremendous opportunity to learn from colleagues from a wide range of backgrounds. We have unparalleled access to scholars from many fields, as well as students from all across the country. In the coming semester, take the opportunity to learn from coworkers in history and cultural studies departments. Listen to the stories of students in your classes. We have a responsibility to engage in dialogue and to listen to those willing to teach out of their lived experiences.
We must also avoid the temptation to examine our communities’ racial disparities from a sterile or abstract perspective. As we live into God’s Kingdom on earth, we must lean into the tensions of a broken world, allowing ourselves to experience to weight of the emotions and the messiness of the journey.
Many of the teach-ins and rallies taking place across the country are being organized and led by the scholars on our very own campuses. Students are leading these movements often at great sacrifice to themselves and their careers, spending long hours organizing, protesting, and teaching. Show up to campus events when they occur, especially those organized by the students. Take time to listen to what the participants have to say.
Remember that many students, staff, and professors alike may be grieving. They may be hurting, anxious, or feeling isolated. Know that they may wear a mask over their hearts to hide the pain and to get through the day. Allow space for those around you to process and to heal. This may mean offering grace through assignment extensions or makeup exams.
Over winter break, students may have gone home a much-needed refuge of community and mutual-understanding, and may be anxious about reencountering feelings of isolation and hostility on campus. Or conversely, students may return from visits with family that were not as restful, instead meeting with conflict and disagreement with relatives and old friends.
As the new semester begins, be sensitive to the specific needs of your community and academic setting. Find out what events are planned around your campus. Participate when invited, and give space as appropriate.
In anticipation of students’ return to campus, here are a few articles to read to begin wresting with the issues weighing heavily on our minds in these last several weeks:
- IVCF Multiethnic Ministries: 3 Reasons Ferguson Matters to Me and to Our Ministry on Campus
- About Education: The Ferguson Syllabus
- Urban Faith: On Mike Brown in Church: The Importance of Sitting in Lament
- Austin Channing Brown: Break the Silence
- Freestyle Christianity: Don’t Invite Me to the Table (Allow Me to Help You Turn it over and Take it out)