Students from 18 colleges gathered together on campus on Feb. 17-18 to learn how racial tensions and modern-day segregation affects American society, higher education and the global church.
For the 21st annual Student Congress on Racial Reconciliation conference, students had the option to attend traditional workshops, which addressed many areas affected by racial discord, as well as a new session centered around storytelling. Attendees heard from many speakers including the keynote Soong Chan Rah, associate professor at North Park University.
Rah gave two messages during the conference. In the first, he identified the breach by using history and statistics on immigration, showing how America will continue to become more diverse through the next few decades. In the second, he contrasted this with the level of diversity in churches and Christian universities, revealing troubling differences in the numbers.
“The college years… are some of the most formative of years of anybody’s life and the values you take from here are going to be values you carry with you potentially for the rest of your life,” Rah said. “And so wouldn’t it be great if we took that biblical value of reconciliation, God’s justice and God’s heart for all the peoples of the world… from this place and it became an important part of what we do as believers going forward?”
The need for diversity
Students like Janae Sims, junior sociology major and SCORR co-coordinator for community events, appreciated the way he used statistics along with personal narratives to convey the importance of this message.
“I feel like him being able to statistically show the Bible is fulfilling itself to me just emphasizes the importance of why we need to have these conversations. The church should be a lot more involved in diversity than they are,” Sims said.
In an effort to engage with other people’s stories and narratives, SCORR directors added a story slam session on Saturday morning, titled “Narratives of Redemption and Identity Formation.” People from a multitude of backgrounds, including African-American, Native American, biracial and handicap, shared their experiences through stories, poetry and dance.
“I was hearing stories that I just had not even thought of before and realized that racism is still a very prevalent issue in our society that needs to be addressed, and I realized that I had a choice. I could stand on the sidelines and watch other people or I could be an active participant,” said Claire Zasso, senior English major.
A change of heart
Students participating in the event went to Sutherland Auditorium rather than the original location of the library courtyard due to the downpour of rain, which lasted all day. However, the weather failed to dampen the mood of the attendees.
“I just loved the fact that it rained. Because I remember, in literature, that rain always signifies the changing of a heart and a changing of a person and it’s also a significance of God’s blessing, and the fact that it’s been pouring today has just been so cool,” said Avalon Irwin, senior intercultural studies major.
By the end of the conference, many people were left with a lot of information to process, but also encouragement as Rah pressed on them the responsibility of continuing this conversation outside of the conference.
“As the church becomes more diverse, what a great opportunity for God’s people to participate in that and to see God at work,” Rah said. “I would never want to miss out on a good thing that God is doing, and diversity is part of that good thing that God is doing, and therefore I hope students would say, ‘Yeah, how can I be a part of that good work?’