WASHINGTON — Catholic college leaders recently were encouraged to
take steps to heal racial divides on their campuses during an annual meeting in
Father Bryan Massingale, a theology professor at Fordham
University in New York and author of Racial Justice in
the Catholic Church, acknowledged that Catholic colleges and
universities likely have diversity plans and strategies in place, but he said
such guidelines will simply sit on the shelves unless there are concrete
actions behind them.
"What's at stake is our integrity," he told the college
presidents and leaders at a workshop during the Association of Catholic
Colleges and Universities meeting.
He urged them to pay particular attention to the urgency of what
African-American students are experiencing today as highlighted by the Black
Lives Matter movement.
Father Massingale said Catholic colleges leaders need to be aware
of the Catholic response to this moment of racial turmoil and urged them as a
first step to recommit to their sponsors and founders. "They worked for
the marginalized. Tell and own that story," he said.
He also urged them to provide training in anti-racism, forums for
dialogue, curriculum revisions to include voices of people of color and also to
make sure campuses have diverse faculty members.
"College presidents need to let everyone know this is an
issue they are viscerally committed to," he said, urging them to step out
of their comfort zones and also to assure students that "intolerance in
words and postings won't be tolerated."
He said school leaders also need to look at the policing on their
campuses, pointing out that as an African-American he had been trailed by a
campus safety patrol on a campus when he was not wearing his clerics but a
hoodie. This is a "huge concern" on campuses, he added, pointing out
that African-Americans are still disproportionately viewed suspiciously.
Father Massingale also experienced police presence when he
recently gave a talk at a Catholic college and learned that plain-clothes
police officers were in the audience because school officials feared there
could be violence during a talk on the Black Lives Matter movement. Officers
weren't in place for other lectures, he noted.
The priest, who teaches courses in Catholic social teaching, said
when it comes to talking about racial diversity, his students at first don't
know how to talk about it and also feel uncomfortable. When he asks them how
they are feeling, they list any of the following: nervous, hopeless, paralyzed,
afraid, tense, worried, guilty, angry and ashamed.
It's OK to feel these emotions, but don't get stuck there, he
tells them, which he seemed to be echoing to the hotel ballroom filled with
He said campuses need to show solidarity with those people of
color who often feel a lack of inclusion saying they get daily insults with
subtle and blatant messages that they don't belong.
The priest told the college leaders what he tells his students —
that racism and isolation are obstacles to solidarity. Campuses need to be
concerned about all their members: "recognizing the humanity of those who
are not like us," he added.
But showing solidarity in the midst of conflict, isn't easy, he
said, warning that college leaders could likely face resistance.
He urged them to be hopeful and he left them with the last line
of his recent book: "What is now does not have to be. Therein lies the
hope. And the challenge."