Following a year filled with conversations surrounding racial tensions in the Westmont community and nationwide, the college is in the process of taking concrete steps forward. Last week, a survey went out to all students, faculty and staff to gauge the racial climate of the community as part of the new “Arrabon Initiative.” As part of the Initiative, the founding document states, “Arrabon will facilitate the convergence of shared knowledge, language and civil dialogue for the entire Westmont College community to gain a shared vision and be on the transformational journey to becoming a reconciling community.”
Arrabon, founded by David Bailey, seeks to “equip Christian leaders and their communities with the resources to effectively engage in the work of reconciliation.” Bailey, who has spoken in chapel multiple times, has been present on campus for many conversations as part of the Initiative.
“The goal of our process with Arrabon over the next two years is to work throughout the institution, creating new enduring practices that come from strengthened corporate convictions,” said campus pastor Scott Lisea.
Vice President for Student Life Edee Schulze and Lisea were both influential in getting the ball rolling for the Arrabon Initiative, which predated the height of last spring’s racial tensions. “It was probably about a year ago that Scott said to me, ‘We should consider having David [Bailey] and Arrabon work with us relative to racial conversations,’” said Dr. Schulze. “So I took it to Dr. Beebe and we ended up signing a two-year agreement with David to work with us.”
An integral part of Initiative early on was setting up a leadership team, known as the Becoming a Reconciling Community (BaRC) team, to take the conversations and spread them to the community. “Dr. Beebe and I decided that we wanted three faculty members, two staff members from Student Life … and Dr. Beebe and I chair the group,” explained Dr. Schulze. The diverse group includes Dr. Dinora Cardoso, Dr. Enrico Manlapig and Dr. Ogechi Nwaokelemeh of the faculty, as well as Director of Intercultural Programs Blake Thomas and Pastor Scott Lisea.
Dr. Manlapig, who is a professor of economics and business at Westmont, shared his perspective about the role of the team. “Nuts and bolts, I think the team will be focusing on environments that intentionally bring different kinds of people into proximity with one another … as a member of the faculty, my role is to consider this environment and share what tools and language I learn with the rest of the faculty,” he said. Dr. Manlapig acknowledged that the team has come to a shared understanding of racism in the U.S., and that he, like many members of the Westmont community, is still growing in this. “Mostly I’m learning at this point, which I appreciate.”
Dr. Schulze talked through several steps of the Arrabon Process, some of which have already taken place. Instrumental to the process is the racial climate survey that the team created this fall, which is open until Dec. 11. Also included in the process was the “Race, Class, and the Kingdom of God” chapel series this fall, as well as several workshops that took place within the leadership team and student life staff. “[These steps are] part of creating the shared visions, the shared language, the common knowledge and understanding that we will work with for the community,” she said.
Starting in the spring, the BaRC team will evaluate the survey results and launch into strategic planning and programming, both for students and for faculty and staff. “There are some things, like sense of belonging for students of color, the manner in which we communicate when we have different perspectives at the table, [and] some practical things … but really, more critical than that is changing the ethos around how we talk about race, who’s included, who’s invited, who belongs,” said Dr. Schulze.
Dr. Cardoso, a professor of Spanish at the college, emphasized that the work of the Initiative will not be complete at the end of the two-year process. “Two years is a very short span of time to correct what an entire society has built in hundreds of years of racial injustices,” she said. “We have to believe that the work of reconciliation is a garden that will need to be tended for a long time; however difficult the soil or the weather, it doesn’t mean we won’t have flowers to enjoy along the way. ”
The BaRC team is also working with the Executive Team to disperse the knowledge and vision of the Arrabon Initiative to departments such as Admissions and Financial Aid. “There are members of the E-team that have said, ‘I want David Bailey to come work with my staff,’” Dr. Schulze shared. “So part of my role as the coordinator of all this is to get these groups into [the process].”
When all is said and done, Dr. Schulze hopes for a culture-shift within the institution. “We probably won’t be able to measure the shifts in culture notch-by-notch,” she said. “But hopefully, two years down the road, we’ll look over our shoulders and say ‘Wow, our culture really has changed.’ And we’ll have a different ethos.”