What does it take to become a “community of reconciliation” on campus? At Temple University, we’re trying to figure that out. Here are some things we’ve learned in the journey so far.
Try Something New
This year for New Student Outreach (NSO), we decided to create a display to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. For the first two weeks of the school year we invited conversation about how far we’ve come since 1963 and where we need to go next, particularly in our campus community. We had some amazing conversations and saw some great responses to the topic. And it helped us continue to learn a lot about what it means to move toward our vision of facilitating and modeling reconciliation at Temple.
Even before NSO, we knew that people at Temple are burdened by issues of race and really do want to talk about them. And we know we’ve heard God calling us to address issues of racial reconciliation on campus and to do justice in our North Philadelphia neighborhood. The problem is that many students don’t know what to do about the issues.
Work with Others
We don’t always know either. Which is why we need partners—a necessary piece for any progress in racial reconciliation.
We need students who will be co-laborers in this kingdom work.
We need to join with other groups on campus that are racially and ethnically diverse, especially while our group is still predominantly made up of White students.
We need to join in authentic ways with non-believing students where there is common ground around issues of injustice.
This fall we saw all of those things happen. One student leader was a consistent volunteer at our display and led a number of people through it, which helped open his eyes to issues of racism. He had volunteered out of a desire for people to hear about Jesus, but he found himself learning a lot about deep issues on our campus and in the world.
In addition, we were invited to join with the NAACP group on campus for their very first event of the semester, which engaged people around King’s speech and helped groups on campus who are fighting for some similar causes connect with each other. We also had a number of non-Christians attend our early events because they could tell we cared about something that was significant to them.
The standout conversation during the week for me was with a freshman who has extreme concern and thoughtfulness around racism. He described some of the life events that have led him to care so deeply, including the recent deaths of two loved ones. As he opened up, he was willing to wrestle with the question of Jesus and how these things interact.
Develop Practical Next Steps
We’re grateful for these opportunities, but we know we still have work to do. For example, we need to offer practical ways for people to be developed. Students we talked to had a high level of awareness about the issues but often little to no actual engagement in the area of reconciliation. For students to get involved, we need to connect them with real service opportunities, events on campus that engage the issues, and partnerships in the neighborhood.
Model Community—and Invite Others In
We also need to readily invite students in to places where they can see the gospel lived out. One of those spaces is our chapter’s community meal, which happens every other week. We share God’s longing for others to be drawn into true community—a type of kingdom community that is not found many places on campus, even at a place like Temple where diversity is constantly in the foreground on campus and there are obvious chances to be a part of a neighborhood.
We need God’s grace as we learn to be patient in this work. We must not grow weary in inviting widely and consistently. People drop in and out of our community at a moment’s notice; that seems to be part of the fabric of this place. But we’re learning to find hope and joy as we persevere through setbacks and obstacles. Even if people are in and out in a flash, we are playing a part in shifting the campus conversation, and that is part of our work.
And it’s worth it. Even when “results” don’t seem apparent, we are learning that doing these kinds of events and pressing unashamedly toward our vision is worth it. God has invited us to partner with him while he restores all things, however long that may take, so small steps along with him are worth it. And the handful of students (even just one or two) who may become deeply involved as a result of these conversations and events surely make it worth it.
Chris and his wife, Jessica, are on staff with InterVarsity at Temply University.
How are you engaging your community in the area of racial reconciliation?