Christian Colleges Take on Greater Face of Racial Harmony

Two universities will be honored in recognition of their commitment to the enrichment of diversity on campus and in the surrounding communities.

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities recently announced Abilene Christian University in Texas and Trinity International University in Illinois as the two recipients of the 2006 Racial Harmony Award.

"The United States is increasingly diverse. That's the reason why we've worked hard to bring students from different ethnic backgrounds in the U.S. and from throughout the world," said Dwayne VanRheenen, provost of ACU, after the announcement by CCCU.

Over the past five years, ACU has increased its percentage of ethnic and international students. Some 20.2 percent of the student body is now non-white. Faculty members have also integrated a diverse mix with 23 people of the minority ethnicities hired since 1997.

"The university has changed holding to its mission," VanRheenen told The Christian Post. "In the last eight to 10 years, we really worked hard on increasing the diversity of the faculty and student body and with respect to the kinds of courses that we offer."

New curriculum at ACU includes an urban studies program, a minor in Ethnic & Women's Studies, a study program in Crow Nation, Mont., and study abroad opportunities in Mexico, Central America and Latin America.

The implementation of a wider scope of courses promoting diversity "enables students to think more about ... different backgrounds and global issues," said VanRheenen.

CCCU, which has been awarding member colleges since 1999 for racial harmony, reports that the retention of the USA ethnic minority students (freshman to sophomore) at ACU has risen from 67 percent in 1996 to an average of 70.1 percent.

At Trinity International University, also recognized as a forerunner in "backyard" missions, 31 percent of undergraduate students comprise minority groups and 38 percent of Trinity's Executive Council is made up of minority administrators.

Located in Deerfield, Ill., the university has been working to extend diversity on campus, with training workshops on cross-cultural communication for faculty, active recruiting at inner-city schools and churches, mission trips and study abroad programs to get students out into the world, and student-led groups and community initiatives.

Colleges such as Trinity and ACU have taken on a new frontier in mission, serving as a vehicle for reaching out to the various cultural groups in their own backyard.

"Our mission is to educate students for ... leadership throughout the world," said VanRheenen. "What we want to do is send people throughout the world in every discipline (business, mission, theology, education) to be servants and leaders and to spread the word of Jesus and his saving power wherever they are.

VanRheenen explained how ACU came to adopt a vision of multiculturalism for their campus.

"We were running out of a vision for the future of our university that would carry us to our centennial year," he said. "We developed a strategic plan to become a multicultural institution. That's what we set ourselves to do in the last six to seven years."

Next year, ACU is marking its centennial year and celebratory events have already begun.

"We've been blessed in the last 10-25 years," VanRheenen commented as he highlighted the study body, strong endowment, higher ranking and diversity.

Celebrating both a century of higher education history and recognition of years of enlivening their vision, ACU has been blessed in many ways, said VanRheenen.

"We've been blessed through God's goodness to be able to grow and develop through students and faculty who reflect God's creation - not a particular race, but all God's creation," he concluded.

The Racial Harmony 2006 Awards will be presented at the CCCU International Forum on Christian Higher Education in Dallas on Mar. 30 – Apr. 1.