The Beloved Community Project: Faculty and Staff Taking Part in Racial Climate Conversations

Kat Marquez, Staff Writer

In light of continuing the conversations on campus racial climate, a group of about sixty faculty and staff members continue to meet in what is called the Beloved Community Project, or BCP. This group of faculty/staff was inspired by students who expressed concern for Westmont’s racial climate and its silencing of students of color on campus.

According to Dr. Edward Song, associate professor in the department of philosophy, the BCP at Westmont is “an attempt to bring together administrators, alumni, faculty, staff, and students — really anyone who cares about Westmont — who want to work toward healing, justice, and equity regarding matters of race on our campus.”

Song states, “The name is obviously a nod to Martin Luther King Jr., who used the idea of the Beloved Community to express his vision of people living peaceably together with dignity and wholeness, seeing themselves and others as cherished children of God.”

When asked what encouraged him and other faculty/staff members to start the BCP, he replied that it had been something that he and Dr. Felicia Song, associate professor in the department of sociology, “have been talking about for something like a year. Part of the idea was that we could probably be more effective if there was just more coordination going on between various different constituencies on campus. But a big part of it, at least for me, was a certain sense of guilt that I wasn’t doing as much as I could to work on these matters myself and that we could accomplish a lot more if we were just more coordinated and strategic.”

Dr. Edward Song notes that the point of BCP is “certainly not trying to replace work on campus that people are already doing.” Instead, the philosophy professor has a goal to make the BCP “a place where brothers and sisters pray, worship, learn, laugh, mourn, and work strategically with each other.”

Alongside him and his wife, students’ conversations on Westmont’s racial climate have encouraged other faculty voices to begin speaking openly about their learning experiences on race/ethnicity within the BCP.

Dr. Helen Rhee, professor and co-chair of the religious studies department, expresses her interest in taking part in the BCP for inclusive vision and goal. Rhee states, “In the past, I’ve been part of a faculty small group, a faculty book group, etc., on racial issues and racial justice. They serve their necessary purpose then but BCP is comprehensive in scope, vision, and persons involved (faculty, staff, and students), and for the kinds of institutional change I am hoping for … it’s not a committee or task force though it does have that aspect as well … it desires to foster a spiritual and worshipful community.”

Rhee shares her observations on Westmont’s racial climate as well: “It seems there has been a growing racial consciousness and cries for racial justice among students of color and concerned white students and to a limited extent among faculty members that need to be shared and expressed more openly to the wider Westmont community for the benefit of the Westmont community … As those students [who advocated for racial justice] have paved a way to acknowledge and challenge this system of ‘whiteness’, [we] as a Westmont community are at a critical time to listen to them and engage this seriously and constructively for our good. As a faculty of color, I find encouraging that more and more faculty and staff members are wanting to engage this issue … [and] we must persevere through this process as we name the issue and see equity, healing, and reconciliation, which could manifest relationally, curricularly, and operationally.”

As Dr. Rhee explained, some of the goals BCP hopes to achieve are to “facilitate curricular and pedagogical diversity and change, bring together the works of various groups towards racial justice [and] equity, [and] share resources for racial consciousness.”

Similarly, Dr. Sarah Skripsky, director of Writers’ Corner, and associate professor and chair of the English department, voices her interest in the BCP. She says, “As a Christian influenced by Anabaptist tradition, I am convicted that following Jesus means seeing social justice — ‘rendering what is due’ to all of God’s children while striving for closer fellowship with both God and neighbor. In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul teaches on both unity and diversity within the Body of Christ … Paul stresses that if one member suffers, all suffer together.”

As a tenured faculty member and department chair, Skripsky is “convicted that the privilege of these positions comes with the responsibility to [her] voice (including [her] intellectual resources as a rhetor and rhetorician) on behalf of others.” Skripsky recognizes that though she is not an expert in racial reconciliation, she “trust[s] that God can use [her] in some small way to further His Kingdom along with other community members who have different gifts and resources.”

Like her colleagues, Dr. Skripsky is hopeful that the Beloved Community Project will “allow for greater effectiveness in coordinating efforts across campus to reform our curriculum, academic policies, community spaces, and other norms.” She states, “Such reform is not about personal or political agendas but about striving to follow Christ in a way that furthers God’s Love for all of us. I am encouraged that BCP is making such work more visible and collaborative.”

Yet, Dr. Edward Song hopes that BCP eventually comes to an end. He states, “It’s called a project for a reason; it isn’t meant to be permanent. We hope that it can help to establish an awareness and ethos that ultimately gets institutionalized into the fabric of the college. Then it won’t be needed and more.”

Due to COVID-19 and the evacuation caused by the pandemic, Song addresses that despite the “dislocation, upset, and fear that now occupy all of us … everyone who has been involved [is] adamant that we are not going to let it stop some things that that we want to work on.”

These things he describes include a letter of apology as well as a website, which will eventually include some resources. Song mentions that the letter will be “for how faculty and staff have been unresponsive to matters concerning the racial climate on campus. [Members of the BCP] have been having some very fruitful times of prayer and a lot of good conversations, trying to continue to work on some other things so that we have something to show for ourselves when we return back to campus.”

At the end of the interview, Song emphasizes that the BCP is “for faculty AND staff AND students AND alumni — anyone. And there isn’t any kind of purity test as to who it’s for. Whenever we’ve talked about the group, we use broad language. It’s for anyone who cares about racial healing and justice and equity on our campus … we hope that this is a place where we can hash these things out with humility and love.”

Dr. Song is hopeful that the website and/or the letter of apology from faculty and staff will be released sometime this week.

Anyone interested in taking part in the Beloved Community Project can send an email to bcpwestmont@gmail.com or can check out the website to learn more at https://www.bcpwestmont.com.