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President’s Message to UNW Community

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Dear Northwestern Community,

Over the past two weeks I have witnessed Northwestern students, alumni, faculty, staff, on-air radio hosts, and supporters react and respond with God-honoring leadership to the events surrounding the death of George Floyd. Amidst the anger and pain that has been expressed as a result of this dreadful event, members of our community have dialoged and demonstrated as they seek to address the evil that is connected with racism and injustice. These individuals have and continue to represent and directly implement the ideal ethos and spirit that Northwestern seeks to create in its students as outlined in the university’s mission statement. Our goal is that UNW graduates (and students) will give God-honoring leadership in the home, church, community and world. 

As I noted on May 28, George Floyd’s death, as a result of police brutality, was wrong. In response, a movement across America that seeks to address the reality of racism and social injustice within our culture and create fairness throughout our country has been amplified. If we at Northwestern believe in and embrace our mission statement, if we believe in the Word of God, if we believe that every human being is made in the precious image of God, then UNW needs to be in that movement. UNW needs to be involved in reconciliation efforts on multiple levels.

How Is It Happening?

The people of Northwestern continue to exemplify the type of leadership that can produce lasting change. They are seeking to stop the constant and consistent pattern of racism and injustice toward black and brown people. They are calling out the reality of overt racism that exists within every aspect of society and advocating for change that is no longer “just talk,” with real consequences and results. These individuals seek to give voice to those who cannot speak because “someone’s knee is on their neck.” 

Here are a few examples of action by Northwestern alumni, current students, and employees I’ve seen on social media:

  • A recent graduate actively organizing several prayer vigils as well as opportunities for people to be involved in calls to action;
  • A current student using a megaphone rallying peaceful protestors with cries for justice, change, and unity;
  • Two UNW alums feeding demonstrators and volunteers;
  • A recent graduate offering supplies and provisions (water, diapers, everyday needs);
  • An alum, who has a youth ministry in Minneapolis, coming alongside business owners who lost their shops, offering help in restoration;
  • Several spouses of UNW employees coordinating group efforts to bring food and everyday necessities to those in need (e.g. Sanford Middle School);
  • A UNW alumna who oversees real estate properties for Target Corporation expressing her tears of joy over the outpouring of help and assistance by total strangers;
  • A UNW professor standing shoulder-to-shoulder with community leaders and residents demanding justice;
  • Another professor posting on social media with advice and insights on handling the emotions and stress entangled in these events;
  • An alum and former employee joining fellow pastors demonstrating for justice and change;
  • An alum working in the midst of the demonstrations to call out injustice, connecting people with people;
  • Multiple UNW alumni, in uniform as first responders, seeking to protect demonstrators as they exercise their First Amendment rights; and
  • On-air hosts throughout the Northwestern Media network discussing the events and interviewing people regarding biblical perspectives and recommending how we should respond biblically.

We have heard of other UNW alumni and current students, unbeknownst to each other, who are participating in various activities centered on the need for racial justice and drastic change in our culture so that America can move away from any form of racism. These are only a few of many Northwestern connected individuals, seen and unseen, who are participating in this quest for justice with their gifts, talents, and passion. Once again, as has happened throughout our university’s history, Northwestern graduates are seeking to be difference-makers for the Kingdom of God on earth. Some do so boldly and some quietly, but each is seeking to create change. 

Listen. Process. Change. 

These recent injustices serve as a reminder for our community to be intentional, both in front of and behind the scenes, calling out evil, racism, and injustice on our campus (it happens here), in our communities and in the world. So, what should Northwestern be doing?

The first step is to authentically listen to the painful experiences of racism and social injustice experienced by members of our community. We must set aside any pre-conceived perceptions and bias and simply listen to the voices who are sharing their reality. Then, let us process what we have heard. Reflect on the realness of their reality and ask ourselves, “How have I contributed, implicitly or explicitly, and what can I do to alter my current behavior and viewpoint?” The third step is to learn from what we’ve heard and seek change. What can be done differently? What specific steps must be taken to eliminate injustice inside Northwestern, in Minneapolis/St. Paul cities, the region, the U.S., and in the world? Our objective is simple, but difficult. How can we change the world by engaging culture and redeeming it through Christ’s love? 

Here is the simple reality. If we, members of Northwestern, proclaimed followers of Christ, seek a comfortable faith, then the Gospel will not advance. Spiritual faith deepens through adversity, not through comfort. But, we must start here – on campus – and then go out into the culture.

Commitment – Deliberate and Intentional

Change is clearly needed due to the racism and injustice that is experienced and seen daily. I believe change needs God-honoring leaders to influence, impact, and guide the conversations and to ensure everyone has a voice. 

Intentional changes have been made at Northwestern over the last 20-30 years, albeit slower than I had hoped and prayed for. But change has and continues to take place. Some of these changes have included: 

  • Last fall, an event called A Commitment to a Prayer and Reconciliation Journey to Unity: Service of Lament was held in Nazareth Chapel. This public declaration of confession, unity, and prayer in regards to racism and social injustice was voluntarily attended by members of our board of trustees, faculty, staff, administration, and students;
  • A monthly training and coaching series, called Implementation of the Cultural Intelligence (CQ), was implemented to directly address anti-racism topics for staff and faculty. Selected CQ sessions now serve as required onboarding for new faculty and staff;
  • We have implemented Unconscious Bias Awareness training for faculty and staff. Student Life staff now include bias awareness and inclusion conversations in their August student leader training, along with follow-up sessions throughout the academic year;
  • Creation of an Abundant Life chapel series on the topic of pro-life perspectives from the cradle to the grave, which includes the importance of repairing the effects of people’s experiences of racial bias;
  • Commitment as an organization to actively hire more diverse employees, thereby reflecting the richness that comes from various racial and ethnic perspectives;
  • Intentionally placed highly skilled and professionally qualified persons of color in prominent positions of organizational leadership;
  • Established and funded a scholarship program (Act Six) to invest in an ethnically diverse group of young leaders;
  • Created the Office of Global Initiatives;
  • Established a Diversity & Inclusion core team, which includes half of the Senior Leadership Team. As part of the institution’s strategic goals, we created a Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Framework, including a multi-year implementation plan;
  • Implemented intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) assessment tool and training opportunities for faculty and staff;
  • Created and increased Student Life staff support for the student organization now called FORCE (Fellowship of Reconciling Cultures Everywhere); and
  • Committed to address firmly and decisively, in a timely manner, all reported challenges of racism, verbal or non-verbal, being experienced by students or employees. While this has been effectively executed in a timely manner, many situations go unreported. When we have been notified, we have investigated and acted.

These are just a few of the steps that have been taken. And yet, more steps need to be taken; our journey is not complete. As we prepare students to be Kingdom builders, we must strive to become, as an example to our students and listeners, on campus and throughout our organization, a just and racism-free community. This is not an easy task, nor will racist incidents never occur. Our sinful nature will surface. There will be situations where, whether intentional or unintentional, racism will surface. It is inevitable.

What Are the University’s Next Steps?

  • As university president, I meet with the student government president and vice president monthly throughout the academic year. I will now, starting in the Fall 2020, ask the president and vice president of FORCE to meet with me monthly as well. Having direct access to the voices of our student leaders is extremely beneficial;
  • We will continue our current path of pursuing hiring more faculty and staff of color. This has been an ongoing effort. It continues to remain a high priority for me;
  • We will continue to offer an intentional track of campus chapels to provide students an opportunity to openly discuss, process and examine systemic racism in our world and how we, as followers of Christ, in faithful obedience, can make a difference;
  • Student Life staff will be hosting and facilitating community gatherings to invite students, faculty and staff to discuss a wide variety of topics related to anti-racism, diversity and inclusion;
  • Student Life staff will continue to partner with the YMCA Equity Innovation Center of Excellence (a key member of the Center’s leadership team is a UNW alum) to provide customized, experiential learning opportunities for all students; and
  • The Office of Academic Affairs has begun soliciting perspectives and recommendations from faculty and academic staff regarding what should be changed, enhanced, or eliminated within Academic Affairs to help address systemic racism and injustice in our communities and world. I will ask the Director of Global Initiatives and the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs to report back to me as they synthesize feedback and facilitate a plan of action to examine systems that may be preventing full diversity, equity, and inclusion and to also foster a welcoming learning community where the richness of diversity, created by our Creator, is understood, respected, encouraged, and celebrated.

Those of us who truly believe in a merciful, loving Lord, men and women grounded in a deep, personal relationship with Christ, will you join me as steps of action are taken, actions bathed in prayer, to pursue a society that truly believes all people are created equal and made in the precious image of our Lord and Creator and support the emergence within this generation of influencers, leaders, game changers, and change agents against injustice, racism, and oppression. May those prayers and efforts include the words, “Lord, may your kingdom come and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So, Lord, in that quest, use me. Here I am. I want to make a difference, whatever the cost may be.”

President Alan Cureton