As I walked into the dining commons during orientation week, I happened to overhear a conversation between two freshmen women. “I’m thinking about skipping the session on academics,” one student said. “I’ve been to BRIDGE, so I already know all about Wheaton’s philosophy of education.”
Part of me wanted to interrupt the conversation and tell both students how important it was for them to attend our (mandatory) session on academic life at Wheaton College. But another part of me just wanted to enjoy the moment for what it showed about how far we have come.
You see, the student who felt like she already knew all about Wheaton grew up in one of Chicago’s minority ethnic communities. Although she was the first person in her family to attend college, she was well prepared, and she knew it. Through Wheaton’s BRIDGE program (Building Roads to Intellectual Diversity and Great Education), she had spent two summers on campus taking courses with our faculty and being mentored by our students.
So when this young woman matriculated, Wheaton felt like home. She was an insider, not an outsider. Furthermore, she was not alone: nearly a quarter of her classmates—roughly 140 students out of an incoming class of 600—were students of color.
Wheaton College has come a long way since the days when I was a student and there were fewer than one hundred minority students on the entire campus. Today our students belong to a community that more accurately reflects the ethnic makeup of the United States and more adequately prepares them for membership in the worldwide body of Christ, in all its cultural diversity.
We still have a long way to go, of course. Racial reconciliation is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit that requires patience, sacrifice, and persistence. So we continue to work hard to make Wheaton feel like home for students of every ethnicity. In fact, one of our four strategic priorities is to “Deepen Ethnic Diversity.” To that end, some of our recent initiatives include:
• relocating the Office of Multicultural Development to the center of student life in the Beamer Center;
• opening Shalom House, a residential program for men and women from diverse back- grounds to live in community and work toward greater unity and racial understanding; and
• offering the first five Nieves Scholarships, which (similar to the Church Scholarships for African American students) provide full tuition for Latino students.
Perhaps the most significant change is an addition the Trustees have made to Wheaton’s Community Covenant, in which we now make a commitment to “pursue unity and embrace ethnic diversity as part of God’s design for humanity and practice racial reconciliation as one of his redemptive purposes in Christ (Isa. 56:6-7; John 17:20-23; Acts 17:26; Eph. 2:11-18; Rev. 7:9-10).”
Although pursuing unity and embracing ethnic diversity were important priorities for us already, they had never been fully or explicitly articulated in our Community Covenant. So the Trustees directed me to work with the Wheaton community to draft a revision for their discussion and approval. The statement we finally approved represents the best thinking of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni, as well as the heartfelt commitment of our Board of Trustees.
The real test, of course, is not what we sign on a piece of paper or post on the Wheaton College website. The real test is whether we love one another across the barriers that divide us and do everything in our power to educate leaders who have a vision as wide as the family of God. As we hold ourselves to this standard, we ask you to uphold us with your prayers and support us in any practical way that you can.