An Open Letter to the Board of Trustees—
“Diversity.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard this word used to describe a group of students, a program being put on by a department, or someone characterizing our campus population to prospective students, I just may have enough money to pay off a majority of my college debt.
One of the core values that North Park takes pride in is being purposefully intercultural. Many staff and faculty members on this campus have taken measures to assure the concerns of students of various ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and different beliefs or worldviews are respected on this campus. However, I’d argue that this is an issue often glossed over, and even ignored, on a larger scale at this institution.
The administration of this University and you, members of the Board of Trustees, have incredible opportunities to truly showcase how much you care about being purposefully intercultural. Although our undergraduate population at North Park no longer has an ethnic majority, there is still a great divide that exists amongst students that is very rooted in cultural: White person vs. person of color, Christian vs. non-Christian, urban vs. rural. These characteristics also lead to a significant disconnect between students who commute and students who live on campus.
There are a couple pieces of advocacy which Student Government Association (SGA) has been working tirelessly on throughout the past several months in order to help create the intercultural campus that our university claims to be. Recently, SGA unanimously passed a piece of legislation which states that we want North Park University to become a sanctuary campus for undocumented students and DACA recipients on campus. This is a measure that is currently receiving great support not only amongst students, but is currently in the process of garnering supported from multiple staff and faculty members.
In addition to this, SGA has been partnering with the NPU Diversity Team and administration on campus to give opportunity to and empower students who would not normally become involved at North Park. I’ll never forget hearing a Latino student once say, “You only see white people on campus past 4 o’clock.” This quote from a student shows the lack of opportunities and sense of belonging that should exist within an intercultural setting. Although this is a long-term project, I have spoken with both Vice President for Student Engagement Jodi Koslow-Martin and President David Parkyn about converting an already existing space on campus into a place that is easily accessible for commuter and resident students alike. One suggestion is reopening Sohlberg Hall and using the top two floors as a residential space, while converting the first floor into a commuter lounge and placing some department offices in the basement such as the Office of Diversity. This would not only create a new and welcoming atmosphere to show to prospective students, but also aid in the retention numbers at North Park by fostering a sense of belonging that is so necessary for so many students.
As a heterosexual, white, cisgender male, I understand the place of privilege that I come from when writing this letter. I have to be conscious to make sure that my actions line up with these same words that I am currently writing to you. As decision-makers and policy-setters on this campus, I ask that you do the same. It is time that we not only say we are an intercultural student body, but actually live that out. Along with the student body, our request is that North Park’s administration and the Board will address the need to fully embrace its intercultural identity by creating spaces, providing personnel, and implementing policy that will empower students, regardless of a student’s ethnicity, color of their skin, sexuality, or beliefs about God. All of these elements embody culture, and more importantly embody who our student body is and what they stand on.