Living Out the Wesleyan Tradition of Justice in Our Time | President’s Reflection

The summer is flying by. In just over four weeks, we will be welcoming students back to campus. Summer 2020 will be remembered for the unparalleled coinciding of both the “urgent” and the “important.” There has been no trace of the traditional summer lull in the rhythm of our academic community. No question that the realities of COVID-19, including the persistent accompanying uncertainty, have necessitated more meeting time than any other single topic—meetings to plan for the reopening of campus, meetings with our athletic conference, meetings with various networks of other institutions of higher education. (I have not dared to count up the total time devoted to this topic on my own schedule—let alone the schedules of the entire campus!) But while this may be the most urgent of our concerns, it is by no means the only important matter we are confronting.      

The complex concerns of our country and our world linked to racism, civil rights, public civility, religious freedom, poverty, health care, party politics leading up to the November election, immigration, international economics and diplomacyto mention only some of the most conspicuous issues rising to prevalence this summerall invite the careful and focused attention of a Christian liberal arts college community. It is for the purpose of continuing to prepare graduates to speak ethically and courageously into the very heart of the painful and complicated issues of our world—often exacerbated by the pandemic itselfthat we are so committed to dealing with the “urgent” and practical issues of ensuring continuing access to the resources of a Houghton education. 

In my last newsletter, I promised that I would speak specifically to ways in which we at Houghton College are committed as an institution to addressing the concerns of racial and ethnic justice—and to creating a Christian educational community that more closely embodies the cultural richness of God’s Kingdom. I must admit that, when I made that commitment, I was envisioning a more list-like summary than I am able to give at this juncture. I am realizing more than ever that this work is painstaking if it is to result in sustainable transformation. 

So, consider this an interim report. . .  

  • We are committed to establishing visible and ongoing opportunities for learning about the complex realities of race and racism within our world, within our country, and our campus. The class on Race and American Christianity led by Professor Julian Cook, the Director of our Houghton College: Buffalo East Side Program, has attracted an audience of nearly 1700. Already, we see the impact within our constituency of the ways this material is stretching our understanding, challenging our theological and social frameworks, and cultivating a learning community that is committed not only to intellectual understanding but to a life of action informed by this new learning. Professor Cook has encouraged open discussion around the issues, seeking to create a context that models all that is best about the Christian liberal arts learning environment—humility, grace, curiosity, critical thinking and, above all, a desire for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who promises to lead us into Truth. We will continue opportunities such as this for both our residential and online students into the academic year.Please see the events offered at the Mosaic Center.
  • We have begun to administer the Intercultural Development Inventory on our campus, beginning with our campus leaders. This instrument seeks to determine our effectiveness as individuals and as an institution in engaging cultural differences. Already, the results have provoked valuable discussion and commitment to going deeper in how we can make our community more truly welcoming of the richness of cultural difference.   
  • We are anticipating the final report from a comprehensive assessment of our institutional readiness for becoming, even more intentionally, an integrative Christian education community that incorporates the spiritual and intellectual richness of ethnic diversity into our curricular and co-curricular programming and practices. At Houghton, it is significant that this work is grounded in a theological vision of spiritual formation—informed historically by the distinctives of our Wesleyan heritage.    
  • We have embodied our community and curricular aspirations in the Strategic Plan that is currently being reviewed in our community and that is already shaping our priorities for the coming three years.   
  • We are deliberately seeking to include more fully the voices and perspectives of the global and diverse Christian community in our leadership—beginning at the level of our Board of Trustees. Currently, this sector of our community is the most diverse part of our institution.   

Our hope is that Houghton College will become ever more welcoming as a community of hospitality and grace that makes people want to become part of God’s Kingdom in this world. 

This will not happen all at once—and certainly not by our effort alone. We count on the presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit as we continue to be the Houghton College that our Lord would have us be in this time.