CHICAGO (February 12, 2016) — When North Park University was founded by Swedish immigrants 125 years ago, its student body was entirely Swedish, with all curriculum taught in Swedish. Today, as the University achieves significant diversity milestones and is recognized nationally for doing so, its institutional makeup is considerably different.
This school year, for the first time in North Park’s history, there is no racial or ethnic majority in its undergraduate population. No group of students, including Caucasians, reaches above fifty percent, highlighting the University’s commitment to creating a diverse campus community. Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education called attention to the fact that North Park is “one of the few evangelical colleges where the number of minority students now equals white students.”
“David L. Parkyn, the college’s president,” said the Chronicle, “attributes that success to several things, including a historic commitment to diversity, which he talks about frequently, and being located in a diverse city like Chicago.”
Indeed, as Parkyn told a group of students, faculty, and staff in a campus conversation event earlier this week, “Today, we’re trying to make a shift from an objective of becoming multicultural—being comprised of people who come from diverse backgrounds, which is about composition as an institution—to being intercultural. How does the crossing of cultures get ingrained into the DNA of an institution?”
The conversation focused on diversity, inclusion, and the role that individual members of the North Park community play in continuing to shape the campus community. “We are a multicultural campus in terms of composition,” said Dr. Terry Lindsay, North Park’s dean of diversity and intercultural programs and associate professor of cultural studies, at the event. “But how do we move to being intercultural? How do we prepare our students for the world that we’re graduating them into?”
‘Moving Beyond Individualism Towards Community’
Parkyn and Lindsay opened the conversation by explaining that it would be the first in a series of campus-wide discussions in which issues surrounding diversity could be raised and engaged. As they opened the floor to questions, several members of the faculty and staff, as well as some students, asked about particular areas of cross-cultural initiatives on North Park’s campus, including the need to focus on “intracultural” work.
“For me, if intracultural isn’t happening while we’re doing intercultural work, we’re missing the boat,” said Lindsay. “I hope as we’re doing intercultural competency and development, we’re also helping students to think about who they are, their own identity. How those identities were formed. Who influenced the way they view the world, and the way they interact with cultures. And that’s the goal of this new project. We want to have some of those conversations.”
Throughout the semester, Lindsay and Provost Michael O. Emerson will hold a series of conversations, “Tessera to Ubuntu: Moving Beyond Individualism Towards Community,” featuring faculty and staff. “North Park grows increasingly diverse, which offers our community many advantages,” said Emerson. “But diversity in and of itself is not the goal. We seek to be a community within our diversity, to model how people from many different backgrounds can work together to encourage our faith, our studies, and our impact on the larger world. Our Tessera to Ubuntu Series is about how we can do exactly this, together.”
The first conversation, “Reclaiming Your Cultural History,” will focus on the metaphor of the tessera, an individual tile used to form a mosaic; the second, “Understanding Self,” will explore how cultures form; and the third, “Living in Community,” will highlight cultural immersion.
“We want North Park to be a diverse and inclusive environment, one which leads to deep learning and equity of experience for all students,” said Parkyn. “If we achieve this, our graduates will be positioned to cross cultures in the workplace and engage their communities in a socially responsible and transformational manner.”