New pastor, new push for diversity
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Westmont welcomed Dr. Scott Lisea as the new campus pastor this semester. Lisea is certainly qualified for the position: he graduated Westmont in 1988, earned both a doctorate and a master’s degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, and worked extensively with Young Life ministries for 23 years. Dr. Lisea’s arrival coincides with Westmont’s new emphasis on diversity.
In his own words, Lisea has “always appreciated Westmont’s diversity,” adding that “we are more diverse and more international now than we have ever been.” Still, Lisea believes Westmont should “deal intentionally with moving towards healthy dialogue about the diversity that God created.” He added, “the culture around us now, like the current American culture and political culture, is not dealing with all of this well. It’s so vitriolic. So, I hope to play a peaceful role in making Westmont be different than that. I don’t want us to be a polarizing place.” Being mixed race himself, with a Latino father and White mother, Lisea’s racial background combined with his experience at Providence has given him some tools to approach the year. Lisea stated that working at Providence allowed him to understand his identity better since as he says, “I have largely been in a white-dominant culture my whole life, like in Westmont, I was surrounded by only like two other Latino students. It’s caused me to think about racial assimilation and if I’ve been a token or not in predominantly white circles.”
Since the beginning of the semester, the initiative has begun to be incorporated in the weekly chapels. However, Miah Williams, co-leader of the Black Student Union (BSU) felt that Lisea’s intentions on pushing diversity fell flat, referencing the September 3 chapel where Lisea stated that he would “borrow from the great African-American church tradition” and encouraged Eben Drost, the Director of Music and Worship for chapel, to play the keyboard with an organ-like sound and follow the African-American “tradition [that] accentuates some important words” relating to God.
Williams went on to say that she “felt like he was simplifying African-Americans at church because he was specifically referencing the African Methodist Episcopal church. But the way that he presented it seemed like he was trying to represent all of Black culture in one specific church environment.” Williams added, “I don’t think he meant it maliciously, though. It just felt like those comments were a step back from what the ICP office and BSU tries to accomplish: breaking down generalizations about race and having important conversations about race, because that’s what it seemed like, to me, he was doing: generalizing African-American churches and our traditions.”
When asked about the controversial chapel by the Horizon, Lisea stated that he has been in contact with the Intercultural Program’s office and its director, Jason Cha, another co-leader from BSU, Shakayla Manwarren-Fairley, and the WCSA Diversity and Inclusion Senator, Sam Gee. He also stated that he “was aware of the controversies” and prefered to discuss the matter with the appropriate parties in person and not with the Horizon.
Lastly, he encouraged any student who felt unheard to speak with him. Lisea stated that he wants any student who believes their voice has gone unheard to “keep going. I would love to help students feel as if they aren’t so isolated. I would like to be remembered to have been available to the community, to have made an impact, to encourage, and to be faithful praising Christ.” He added, “it’s a privilege to speak to students. I’m looking for ways to learn and grow, and I’ve already been learning, from students. I intend to be the whole time.”
“And I guess I’d say,” Lisea added with his signature wit, “if people have really big theological questions, Henri Nouwen, the campus pastor dog, is always available to answer.”