Thursday, April 14, 2005

Why Christian Colleges Are Not More Mestizo Friendly

I spent the day with some wonderful brothers and sisters that give of their talents, skills, knowledge, spiritual energy and passion at some of the best known Christian colleges and seminaries in our country-all members of CCDA. There was even a representative from my Alma Mater, Whitworth College in Spokane, WA.

During the meeting, which lasted pretty much all day (hard to endure for someone used to leading meetings and not sitting through them) my mind kept wandering back to my Whitworth days. I still remember the day I arrived by plane into Spokane and then onto the campus. I was taken to the gym where registration was taking place. I seemed lost, with few details about what I was supposed to do once I arrived. My football coach (and spiritual mentor- hard to believe those two things could go together) and another teacher who attended Whitworth helped me apply, and I got accepted. I showed a letter stating as much. When they gave me the bill for the first semester, I had no idea I owed so much money. I only had a couple of hundred dollars in cash. The person that was helping me check in went off like a car dealer salesperson to 'find me a better deal'. Eventually, they scraped together enough scholarships (tennis, art major, minority) and loans to cover my whopping bill of $4K (for everything- this was 1978).

All of these memories came flooding back like a mixed bag of thoughts and feelings. Out of 1300 students back then, I was one of three Latinos (one of the three insisted she was not Hispanic) on campus, along with a handful of African-American basketball players, 15-20 Hawaiian students that came through a Young Life connection, and a few international students from around the globe.

My saving grace in terms of the culture shock of this new reality (so many Anglos and so many Christians) was that 2 of my roommates were from Hawaii (and dark skinned like me). I still have not been invited to visit them! When I got real homesick, I just pretended they were Mexican-Americans like me. The year was a trip.

Well, as I fast forward back to today, I heard many comments at this meeting (mostly in side conversations), about how few non-white students attend Christian colleges today. 25 years later and not much progress has been made in this area in terms of numbers. I know there has been lots of effort made. I know that many initiatives to recruit and retain minority students have come and gone, and come again. There are some great people trying to make it happen. So, why are there so few Latinos and African-Americans from the hood attending these great institutions?

What would it take to make Christian colleges more Mestizo friendly (I use Mestizo to dramatize the fact that urban kids, like my own children, come mixed and blended more and more)? Or, put another way, what would need to happen for urban/non-white kids to flock to Christian colleges?

Well, we could begin by asking, why do white kids flock to these schools? There is history (many of their parents and family friends went there). They see administrators and professors and students that look like them and have similar experiences as they do attending there. They can afford to pay to attend these colleges (not without sacrifice- I don't know too may families of any color with an extra $20k laying around). The culture there, makes them feel comfortable and at home (many of these schools are outside the center cities of our nation). The schools have great contacts in the cities and churches where their recruits live (almost every white person associated with the school becomes an official or unofficial ambassador for the school with other white kids).

How does this compare to the experience with minority kids (while I do not like this word, I will use it because we all know that it means non-white students)?
Few if any of our parents or friends attended these schools. We see virtually no-one in positions of leadership that look like us. Finances make it almost impossible to stay at the school for 4 consecutive years. The culture and country/suburban setting is new and foreign, thus many of our kids do not feel at home. Not to mention the strange food, music, and other sounds and smells that make up our new environment. And finally, when it comes time for recruiting minority kids, there is usually one or two ethnic staff that are given the job to go out and find these students(along with a handful of other white staff that are fully committed to diversity)! No one else, really feels the responsibility to actively to seeking out these kids, because in fact, they have virtually no meaningful contact with the minority kids the college seeks to recruit. Few school representatives know their (potential ethnic students) churches, their pastors, their cultures, their languages, or their communities.

As I look at this, it is not surprising that so few minority kids attend these schools. Even though they represent wonderful institutions, that provide incredible opportunities for intellectual and spiritual growth and development. (I know, because I had a very good experience at Whitworth: getting a degree in 4 years, playing on the tennis team and traveling to Hawaii, entering youth ministry with Young Life and interacting with Godly professors that I still keep in touch with!)

The point is, it seems to be the exception, not the rule, when a person of color makes it to and through a Christian college for many of the reasons I shared earlier.

More later.


At 4:41 AM, Blogger Andy Crouch said...

Noel, this is so good. And the broader context of mestizaje that you place it in is even better.

I just came back from a truly wonderful experience speaking at Taylor University; but it was definitely cross-cultural, and I'm about as white as they come!

Are you in Philly this coming week? Would you email me or give me a call? I would truly love to take you out for lunch/dinner/coffee/anything. :) My contact info is on my Web site .

At 6:41 AM, Blogger Noel Castellanos said...

i'll be in Philly from Tuesday to Friday. Tuesday afternoon/night is probably best since I will have classes going on the whole week.

At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Based on the many blogs I've been reading the past few weeks, it seems we are missing the bigger picture. Why not create new "ethnically diverse" schools and universities rather than spend our energies trying to change the established institutions. It's the first lesson in church planting or even in business. Don't try to change an existing church into the "new thing". Just start a new service or a new church. Seems like many out there are working harder and not smarter.



Post a Comment

<< Home