Dr. Beverly Liefeld Hancock ’84, President, Wheaton College Alumni Association Board of Directors
Four years is simply not enough time to fit in all the invigorating courses available at Wheaton. For example, I wish I could have studied Latin. While I find Google to be a sorry substitute, it does provide the meaning for alma mater: “nourishing or kind mother.” I am grateful to have seen Wheaton College live into that meaning: faculty investing in the lives of students; staff and administration caring for students’ minds, bodies, and spirits; students supporting fellow students by serving as RAs, student chaplains, and campus leaders; and the Alumni Association staff caring for students with generous surprise treats and faithfully connecting with 48,000+ alumni. As a parent, I entrusted my daughters with confidence to my alma mater as they grew independent.
Thankfully, “kind mother” is the experience of many at Wheaton; but not of all. Wheaton is a place with rich diversity: over 50 denominations represented, 50 states, and 43 countries. Twenty-three percent of students are American ethnic minorities. During the pandemic, we became more aware that embracing our differences does not always come easily. Even as the body of Christ, called to love each other, we frequently struggle as we seek to understand differences, and we can fail to recognize when we cause pain.
The Alumni Association Board of Directors laments that for some, their experience of Wheaton, both as students and alumni, includes times of being wounded rather than nurtured. This is especially notable for some students and alumni of color. In light of this, in 2020 we created an internal Diversity Advisory Group composed of current members of the Alumni Board. We’ve looked at structures such as our Board composition, and our processes such as the criteria we use in granting awards. We’ve sought to identify unintentional barriers that prevent equal participation and asked ourselves to what we need to pay attention so we do not further unintentionally exclude alumni of color. While our work is in its infancy, our hope is that we will grow in understanding and sensitivity. And we pray that as alumni reflect on their experience at Wheaton, more will experience their alma mater as a place of nourishing and care grounded in our faith in a loving and gracious God.