Seeing Each Other Clearly At Last
Dr. Dalene Fisher, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences
“Our response as a Christian university must be one that sees 2020 as an opportunity to engage and develop students who are prepared to influence culture with the grace and truth of the Gospel.”
It’s late March, 2020. Faculty and staff are trickling onto the nearly empty OKWU campus to quickly gather their things in preparation for an uncertain quarantine. Parking lots, usually bursting with inexpensive cars crammed into too- few parking spaces, are only sparsely dotted with vehicles. A quietness settles over the campus.
No boisterous undergrads yelling, “Hey, Doc!” No soccer players rushing to the cafeteria after a long practice. No students reclining in the Rose Garden, frantically reading Shakespeare before tomorrow’s exam, and no business students in crisp suits hurrying to give their next presentation. No student nurses scurrying to clinicals. No ministry students debating Dr. McNall’s latest blog post.
Instead, students were preparing to leave for what we’ve begrudgingly dubbed “the longest spring break in the history of mankind.” An uneasy calm had found its way onto campus—not eerie, but certainly odd.
Responding with Grace and Truth
Like the rest of the world, in the early days of the pandemic, OKWU faculty, staff, administration, and students struggled to come to terms with the reality of COVID-19. But in the stillness of those early days, the quiet that rested over the campus before we began a slow re-opening in early June was appropriate. The abrupt shut-down prepared us to listen because the quietness demanded it.
So when our black brothers and sisters reeled with brokenness and fear throughout springtime, our hearts broke with them. We asked: what can we do? The pandemic left us with worried students and professors, and we asked: how can we respond?
One thing was clear and remains so. Our response as a Christian university must be one that sees 2020 as an opportunity to engage and develop students who are prepared to influence culture with the grace and truth of the Gospel. We must teach students to see the world—to see others—as worthy of attention and care. Moreover, we must be people who also care for one another. It’s why we’ve responded to COVID and to racial reconciliation with the simple statement: OKWU Cares. Because we do.
Determining how to respond to the complexities of 2020 has required both grace and truth, with the utmost concern for our fellow man. And understanding this type of complexity is the very skill that a Christian liberal arts education is designed to teach. Subjects aren’t studied in isolation. A liberal arts education acknowledges complex realities. History informs our decisions, but psychology asks us to consider human nature in that pursuit. Literature asks us to think about how our stories are interconnected, while science compels us to do more research and ask better questions. And as Christ-followers, this critical inquiry falls under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
So when racial tensions rose, we asked our black brothers and sisters questions. And then we tried our best to shut our mouths, listen, and love. We read more. We researched more. We asked ourselves why some historical stories had been told, and others had been suppressed. We asked our students about their experiences at OKWU, and we sought reconciliation when it was needed.
“It’s time for a change. If not us, who? We all have to become comfortable being uncomfortable with racial injustice in order for any change to happen.”
Co-Director of OKWU’s Cultural Connections Club
An Everyday Suit
Kyle White, VP for Student Development at OKWU, puts it this way: “Our students coming to school don’t need a person who dresses in a cape. They need a person who dresses in an everyday suit. A person who lives in their daily skin, who is real, present, and ready to be the hands and feet of Christ, prepared to listen, learn, respond, and break bread.
My experience of having children, family, and friends of color in my life does not make me immune me from having racists thoughts, prejudice, and dismissiveness to those in pain. I will not lean on my past positive moments to excuse the responsibility of my daily calling towards loving my neighbor. I need to live in a way that recognizes that there cannot be any peace in my life until there is peace in my neighbor’s life.”
Kyle’s contention that we mustn’t merely “put on our capes” resonates with me. After all, we are not called to be saviors of this world; rather, we are called to point others to the Savior. At the same time, we are called to thoughtful action.
We’ve started to ask more questions. We’ve started listening. A senior English major, Sidnie Brown, has graciously been encouraging OKWU faculty, staff, and students to engage in healthy dialogue.
While we all can (and probably should) wear physical masks to protect ourselves and the vulnerable brothers and sisters among us as a demonstration of care, it’s time for our metaphorical masks to come off. President Dunn asserted as much during the 2020 convocation ceremony.
It’s time for real conversations about race, politics, and biblical justice. As a university, we’re asking more questions. We’re listening to our students and each other. We’re striving for authenticity while recognizing our sinfulness. We’re seeking holiness and wholeness.
And while we hope that the solid liberal arts education we’ve offered our students has prepared them for 2020, an all-too-real dystopian reality, we know that ultimately, it is Christ who provides the solutions. At Oklahoma Wesleyan University, we not only call students to be world changers, we ask that they first allow God to transform their hearts and minds so that they can, as Dr. Dunn commissions them, live as One Sent.
OKWU’s campus is bustling again. During late-night study hours, laughter echoes throughout the halls of the mansion. When a student inadvertently drops a plate in the cafeteria, good-natured cheers celebrate the fumble. Extroverted, friendly students greet professors walking across campus. We yell back. There is noise. There is worship. (There aren’t enough parking spaces again.) There is singing—oh, the singing!
Our voices are louder, but our hearts are quieter. We’re wearing masks. As a result, we’re looking straight into one another’s eyes. We’re forced to speak clearly and listen carefully. That’s the only way communication works.
And perhaps, just perhaps, we’re seeing each other better than ever.
“For a lot of us, 2020 has called us to self-examination. It has called us to step outside of our comfort zones and to enter into conversations that are uncomfortable for us. It has called us out of assumptions we’ve placed on others. It has called us to seek what unites us as humans and as followers of Christ. Concerning OKWU, I’m excited that we are finally acknowledging the hurt and pain of people of color and that we are not afraid to ask tough questions and to seek understanding of other people’s perspectives. I’ve been longing for this time. I’m not glad about how these conversations are being brought up, but glad that OKWU is starting to have conversations about ethnic relations. Before, I felt that not enough people cared to, because the conversations were uncomfortable. I’m grateful that OKWU is welcoming these conversations, because by welcoming these conversations they are welcoming me onto campus.”
Co-Director of OKWU’s Cultural Connections Club
“With history repeating itself before our eyes, there is a high demand for healing the disparities in our nation. Conversations of racial reconciliation are trending in the workplace and in churches nationwide. However, this process often causes tension and frustration. Racial reconciliation requires pushing past the discomfort, a commitment to listen and learn, and a heart that desires change. There needs to be an acknowledgment of history and its wrongs, repentance from wrongdoings, and the identification of areas needing reparations. Reparations are not to be done by one group of people, but by all of God’s children. Sacrifices of comfort, time, preferences, and traditions are also crucial in the reconciliation journey.
One of the strong points of Oklahoma Wesleyan is gathering people from various parts of the world. The goal should not be to be diverse but to be culturally inclusive and unified. Diversity covers a surface level, but cultural inclusiveness allows people to celebrate differences. With prayer, the application of truth, and leading conversations with grace, our nation will grow one step closer to canceling the hostile way of living and replacing it with harmony.”
Senior, English Major