Conference Inspires University's Efforts at Diversity and Inclusion

October 21, 2019

Earlier this month, a team of five Anderson University senior leaders, faculty and staff flew across the country for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Diversity Conference.

At the diversity conference, which was held at George Fox University near Portland, Oregon, AU leaders learned from influential keynote speakers and participated in breakout sessions with representatives from other Christian universities.

Anderson University Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion James Noble“This is a conference that is designed for chief diversity officers and those who are leading the way of diversity efforts on their campuses,” said Anderson University Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. James Noble. “We all came together. It was the largest one that the CCCU has had in attendance. I was encouraged to see the number of faculty and staff of color who came together to encourage each other.”

Four members of AU’s diversity leadership team attended the conference: Dr. Noble; Amy Porpilia, director of human resources; Dr. Jim Fereira, senior vice president for student development; and Nathan Cox, assistant provost; director of the Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence and professor of art. Provost Dr. Ryan Neal also attended. 

The team was especially impacted by keynote speakers Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil, an advocate for biblical reconciliation and racial justice in the global church, and Bryan Loritts, senior pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in California. 

Porpilia said that McNeil connected diversity work to faith and discipleship. Loritts spoke on strategic communication, and he explained that diversity must be stitched to the Gospel. Porpilia jotted down a powerful quote from Loritts: “a racially indifferent Christian is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.” 

“If we are identified by the love we have, it is integral to our Christian lives, Christian faith and the Gospel that we are demonstrating this love to all people,” Porpilia said. 

In addition to hearing from keynote speakers, the team attended breakout sessions about racial battle fatigue and how to build a strategic diversity plan. 

“The CCCU Diversity and Inclusion Conference was an amazingly beneficial experience. It was a combination of inspirational, practical and, at times, spiritually moving presentations,” Dr. Cox said. “There were many rich opportunities to dialogue about such things as how to sensitively discuss challenging issues, the challenges of understanding unconscious bias and the practical steps an organization can take to build community. I participated in lectures and discussion on everything from the lasting social damage of historically misconstrued theology to the unintentional biases built into machine learning code.”

AU colleagues enjoyed sharing personal stories about their families and backgrounds with one another and having out-of-office conversations about what they learned at the conference. 

The insight that the team gleaned will inform diversity initiatives at AU; Dr. Noble is building a strategic diversity plan. 

“As Christians, we look through the lens of God when it comes to diversity. Our diversity is based on the biblical mandate to love your neighbors as you love yourself. It’s kingdom diversity,” Dr. Noble said. “The strategic plan that I’m building is going to be really focused on kingdom diversity and not just diversity.”

Although Dr. Noble said that the individuals who attended the conference will be catalysts for the strategic diversity plan, he said his plan will involve the whole campus. 

“Diversity is such a complex initiative. It is going to take a campus buy-in,” Noble said. “It is more than one person can do or one office can do or one team can do. It really takes a campus to help us be a place where we all are insiders and not outsiders.”

Additionally, Porpilia hopes to continue reviewing hiring practices and looking for opportunities to integrate more diverse authors and material in academic curriculum.

“I left feeling energized and encouraged about AU’s plans and next steps towards nurturing and growing an even more inclusive community that celebrates and honors cultural diversity,” Cox said. 

Dr. Noble said it is important for Christian colleges and universities to collectively focus on how to operate from a biblical perspective, and he hopes that Anderson can host the CCCU Diversity Conference—which is hosted at different CCCU member campuses across the nation—in the near future.