Are We Truly The King's College?
Last year, around the time of the school’s presidential debates, there was much talk about the Honor Code. It seemed like every major conversation about the school was centered on what the Honor Code was and what steps should be taken if students were to break it. To me, all of the Honor Code jargon was very perplexing. I felt an even bigger issue was not being addressed: the issue of the blatant lack of racial diversity at The King’s College.
This is an issue that we don't talk about. Consider this: When was the last time you thought about or heard of any kind of school-wide discourse about the lack of diversity at King’s? How often is this issue addressed, either by students or the administration?
I don't aim to speak on the behalf of all "minority" students at The King’s College, but the current demographic of the school, coupled with the naivety or timidity to confront the problem, is a setup for racial insensitivity towards the few students of "color" at King’s—racial insensitivity which I have personally experienced.
One incident in particular, which demonstrates the overall diversity problem at King’s, happened during class and involves a school professor. Let me preface this: It is NOT my desire to get this professor reprimanded. The professor (who shall remain unidentified) made the effort to understand my concerns, sincerely apologized and then took steps to correct the matter.
While in class, the professor jokingly agreed with an author’s interpretation of Africans, (i.e. black people), as being “savages.” It is crucial for me to reiterate that the professor was joking. The professor got caught up in the tone of the book and made a bad joke, which most of the students actually found funny. I did not and do not believe that the professor is racist, but the professor did make a comment that is racially insensitive. It should be noted that there is a clear distinction between the two.
Just as much as I was upset, I was also concerned. I was concerned because the instance of a predominantly white class (with two black students present), laughing at a joke which identified black people as savages, reflects racial insensitivity, not only from the professor but also from the students. The comment and laughter that followed demonstrates that there is a culture problem at King’s, and this problem needs to be addressed. We cannot afford to dismiss this as an isolated incident. In fact, to dismiss it would be an injustice to the current student body, white or black, and it would also be an injustice to incoming students and faculty. I question whether a joke like that would be made in a classroom setting with an equally divided racial makeup. And even if a joke like that were made in front of a mixed student body, I would bet that more than one of the students present would have confronted the professor for saying such a degrading statement.
This incident and others of its sort, (I have heard of equally disturbing stories from other "minority" students), are reasons why we need to take a serious and critical look at the lack of racial diversity at this school and adjust our mindset to one that reflects what it truly means to be The King’s College.
The issue of racial diversity is one that I know faces other colleges. I am cognizant that attracting a student body with a mixed ethnic makeup is not easy, especially considering the high tuition and academic standards that this college has. Plus, I think it is fair to say that, even if "minority" students have the intelligence and finances to make it to King’s, that probably means they can also be accepted to an Ivy League school and may choose that route instead.
That said, there should still be an intentional pursuit of ethnically diverse students by The King’s College. This article is focusing on the lack of diversity of students, but the same problem persists in the faculty and staff. The King’s College has greater control of the racial demographic of its faculty than that of its students, and yet, there is little representation of "minorities" on the faculty.
Is it acceptable for a Christian college in New York City to have only one black professor? How can this, or any academic institution, especially in New York City, challenge its students to make an impact on the world, when the predominate amount of its students and staff, represent only a "minority" perspective of the world and the kingdom of God?
There needs to be a greater number of incoming students with different races, ages, cultural upbringings and other life experiences at The King’s College so that King’s students can be challenged by more than subtle differences within the same ideological framework that they share with peers of similar backgrounds. This is essential for students’ development, both personal and academic.
Let me be clear—I know there is a good chance that the numbers for "minority" students may not grow drastically, even if the school were to purposefully and diligently recruit them. However, the difference would be a change in mindset, and that is ultimately what I am advocating for. Recruiting students who are intellectually competent and financially capable is not enough. Since we bear the name of the King, our aim should be higher. Diversity, especially in a Christian setting, should be sought after and celebrated.
The celebration of diversity used to be one of the marketing banners of this school. The King’s College was once known for being one of the few Christian colleges with a racially diverse student population and faculty.
Prior to my acceptance at King’s, my main source of information about the school was from a good friend whom, for the sake of her privacy, I will call Marie. Marie attended The King’s College from 2002 to 2004. I told Marie about the op-ed piece I was writing and asked her to share her experiences with me. Marie told me that she was initially drawn to King’s for its racial and cultural diversity. She described to me how The King’s College targeted urban areas in New York City and used local Christian artists to recruit local Christian students.
The information from Marie was so surprising and important, I asked her to email me a summary of her experiences so that I could quote her directly. Of the cultural makeup at King’s she writes, “Some of the things that drew me to the college was its push to be diverse.” Notice that, according to Marie, The King’s College at the time had a “push” or desire to have a school that represented many different ethnic backgrounds. Since the school was predominantly black and Latino, one can argue that The King’s College, at that time, was also racially unbalanced. However, the difference is the school had a “push” to include all nationalities. “I learned so much from my classmates who were from all walks of life,” Marie said. “My freshman class was small and had both national and international students of all different denominations.”
I learned something from Marie’s experiences that both shocked me and illustrated how much The King’s College used to esteem diversity and cultural relevance. Marie wrote, “The [second] time I heard about the school was at an event where a representative of The King's College was giving away free copies of TKC's Hip Hop Mixtape.”
When I first heard about “TKC’s Hip Hop Mixtape,” I must confess, I laughed. I laughed because the notion of the current King’s having a Hip-Hop mixtape to recruit new students sounds silly. However, while talking with Marie, I realized how much The King’s College used to care about being relevant to the world—especially New York City.
During our talk, Marie said that towards the end of her time here, a greater number of middle-class students from out of town started to enroll. Marie left The King’s College in 2004 because tuition was too high, and she said that many other local students left as well. The decreasing number of ethnically diverse students was followed by a decreased number of ethnically diverse faculty members. Hence, the beginning of The King’s College’s transformation from being a Christian school for New York City to being a Christian school in New York City. When I think about the racial demographic that exists now compared to then, it seems to me that King’s has undergone somewhat of a gentrification.
I did not bring up Marie’s experiences at King’s to advocate for an increase in enrollment of local students. I bring up Marie’s experience to ask if there was once a time when The King’s College cared so much about diversity, why is it so different to the current demographic and attitude?
Do you think it would have been likely, back then, for a professor to call Africans or black people savages in the classroom?
We have to be aware of these changes that took place in this school and dare to wonder, what happened? We need to ask, why did it happen? And, how do we progress from here?
No student, especially at a Christian school, should ever hear the ugly racial comments that I and other students have heard at King’s. We need to ask key questions and confront racial issues, so situations like the one I shared never happen again.
Our namesake calls us to a higher level of accountability than other colleges. There are far too many "Christian" colleges that profess the name of Christ and yet neglect the inconvenient truths of who Christ was and is. Christ, though an educated man, was not like the highfalutin' Pharisees of His day. Jesus, our King, identified with those who were forgotten. We cannot forget how our King scolded the Pharisees saying, “You tithe mint and rue and every herb and neglect justice” (Luke 11:42, English Standard Version).
We must not become neo-Pharisees—savvy and knowledgeable enough to speak the truths of Christ but incompetent in showing His love to the world. We must guard against becoming white-washed tombs on the outside, engulfed in uber-technical and “fruitless” jargon, while morally, socially and spiritually rotting on the inside. Not only should we bear the name of the King, we must also bear His cross. And on His cross, He sacrificed His life for all to enter His kingdom. We, likewise, must sacrifice and do the great work for all to be welcomed to learn His ways. In the King’s kingdom, there are various shades and hues. The same should be true of His college.
The process of diversifying The King’s College is one that I know will take time, but if it was done in the past, it can be done again. Before we can begin the process of diversifying King’s we must, like we once did, acknowledge the significance of having diversity at King’s. After adjusting our mindsets, students and faculty members need to talk about ways we can expand our efforts to reach out to local, national and international "minority" students. There should also be conversations about what racial insensitivity is, how it can be prevented and what should be done if something racially insensitive happens. Conversations like these can cause uncomfortable tension, but as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “…there is a type of constructive, non-violent tension which is necessary for growth.”
It is common knowledge that The King’s College seeks to compete academically with the likes of Harvard University and New York University. There is nothing wrong with seeking to be an academic institution as intellectually credible as Harvard and NYU, but there is a problem with usurping the intelligence of God with the intelligence of humankind. God did not give us intelligence to keep it in a privileged bubble of elitism. In the book of Proverbs, when it says that wisdom stands at the gates of the town and calls, it does not clarify the socio-economic status of the town to which wisdom is calling. She, Wisdom, cries out to the “children of man” (Proverbs 8:4 ESV). Needless to say, Wisdom calls out and is available to all of humanity’s children—not a select few. We as civilians in the King’s kingdom should reject the world’s concept of exclusion and instead, embrace the King’s principle of inclusion.
James Baldwin once said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” I love this school more than any other school, and it is my genuine love for this school that drives me not to criticize it but to challenge it.
The Bible implores us to confront one another in love. My prayer is that, even though this article is socially contentious, we would seize the opportunity to discuss it in a way that is spiritually fruitful. I pray that we would not allow it to separate us any further, but rather, let it bring us closer together.
Finally, I pray that we would continue the honorable task of turning this great institution for higher education into the college it is meant to be—The King’s College.
Jube Charles ('13) is a guest writer in the House of Ronald Reagan.