Catholic college leaders urged to bridge racial divides on campus

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bruce Gilbert, Fordham

By Carol Zimmermann

(CNS) — Catholic college leaders were encouraged Jan. 29 to take steps to heal racial
divides on their campuses during an annual meeting in Washington.

Father Bryan Massingale, a theology professor at
Fordham University in New York and author of “Racial Justice in the
Catholic Church,” acknowledged that Catholic colleges and universities likely
have diversity plans and strategies in place, but he said such guidelines will
simply sit on the shelves unless there are concrete actions behind them.

“What’s at stake is our
integrity,” he told the college presidents and leaders at a workshop
during the Jan. 28-30 Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities meeting.

He urged them to pay particular
attention to the urgency of what African-American students are experiencing
today as highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Father Massingale said Catholic
colleges leaders need to be aware of the Catholic response to this moment of
racial turmoil and urged them as a first step to recommit to their sponsors and
founders. “They worked for the marginalized. Tell and own that
story,” he said.

He also urged them to provide
training in anti-racism, forums for dialogue, curriculum revisions to include
voices of people of color and also to make sure campuses have diverse faculty members.

“College presidents need to
let everyone know this is an issue they are viscerally committed to,” he
said, urging them to step out of their comfort zones and also to assure
students that “intolerance in words and postings won’t be tolerated.”

He said school leaders also need to look
at the policing on their campuses, pointing out that as an African-American he had been trailed by
a campus safety patrol on a campus when he was not wearing his clerics but a
hoodie. This is a “huge concern” on campuses, he added, pointing out that African-Americans are still disproportionately viewed suspiciously.

Father Massingale also experienced police
presence when he recently gave a talk at a Catholic college and learned that plain-clothes police officers were in the audience because school officials feared
there could be violence during a talk on the Black Lives Matter movement. Officers weren’t in place for other lectures, he noted.

priest, who teaches courses in Catholic social teaching, said when it comes to
talking about racial diversity, his students at first don’t know how to talk
about it and also feel uncomfortable. When he asks them how they are
feeling, they list any of the following: nervous, hopeless, paralyzed,
afraid, tense, worried, guilty, angry and ashamed.

OK to feel these emotions, but don’t get stuck there, he tells them, which he seemed to be echoing to the hotel ballroom filled with college leaders.

said campuses need to show solidarity with those people of color who often feel a lack of inclusion saying they get daily insults with subtle and blatant messages that they
don’t belong.

The priest told the college leaders what he tells his students — that racism and
isolation are obstacles to solidarity. Campuses need to be concerned about
all their members: “recognizing the humanity of those who are not like
us,” he added.

But showing
solidarity in the midst of conflict, isn’t easy, he said, warning that college
leaders could likely face resistance.

urged them to be hopeful and he left them with the last line of his recent book: “What is now does not
have to be. Therein lies the hope. And the challenge.”

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Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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