Cedarville University’s Diversity Book Clubs promote reflection and open conversation 

by Noah Tang

In the picture from left to right: Marielle Payton, Annaliese Miller, Caleb Forehand, Meghan Wells, Jayla Martin, Ella Clay, Senait Scheie, Elizabeth Dunham, Jessie Thomas, Kailee Harris, Professor Carolyn Barnett, Noah Tang, Grace Gregory.

As part of its commitment to the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ, Cedarville University strives to attain the correct understanding of Kingdom Diversity. To that end, the University has undertaken several initiatives to promote meaningful discussion and action on this topic. One of these is the diversity book clubs, in which a faculty or staff member leads a group of students through a given book.

Right now, two book clubs are actively meeting, respectively led by Dr. Mark Owens and Professor Carolyn Barnett. Barnett’s group has just finished their book for the fall semester, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity by Trillia Newbell, and anticipates beginning the next book, Talking about Race by Isaac Adams.

Members have joined one of these book clubs for various reasons. Often, they were recruited by a friend or professor in the group. 

“I found out about the book club through another Black student on campus. I immediately wanted to join because I was looking for a support system that was discussing and empathizing with the experiences of American minorities on campus, especially Black/African-Americans,” said Marielle Payton, a sophomore studying professional writing & information design.

Charles Conway, a sophomore music and biblical studies double major, recently joined Barnett’s group.

“I wanted to get acquainted with more people who were academically minded and outside of my hall, especially since I came in the middle of the year,” Conway said. 

“I love talking about it and wrestling with such questions,” said Senait Scheie, a junior majoring in social work. She is also a member of Barnett’s book club. “I joined because this topic personally interests me, and I didn’t see conversations like this happening very much on campus. Also, the setting is more formal and intentional than regular conversations.”

Jessie Thomas, another junior social work major, attends the Barnett group.  Thomas first joined the book club initiative when it began in Spring of 2021. This year’s book club is the third one she has attended.

“I’ve seen a lot about racism in the media and tried to educate myself through various books. So, I was excited to get a Christian perspective on the issue,” Thomas said. “I was already interested because I already cared about diversity.” 

Each member has benefited and grown from the shared experiences made in this safe space. 

 “In my short time at the book club, I am reminded that knowledge is not only a vertical pursuit but also a horizontal one. Conversing with people from different backgrounds and perspectives allows for a broader understanding of any subject,” said Conway. “Everyone’s been extremely welcoming and open to the ideas that I have brought to the table and seem to have a desire to learn from one another.”

Scheie has learned to better see both sides of the issue of racism. She has seen that much has been done regarding diversity, but still much remains to be done. 

“I’ve also learned how to better have such conversations with people different than me. Lastly, I’ve become more self-aware as a result of learning from Professor Barnett,” said Scheie.

Thomas feels similarly: “It’s been very valuable to have conversations with diverse members of the student body and hear their perspectives and learn about their experiences, both in life in general and at Cedarville in particular. Members of the book club have open minds and balanced perspectives. People were able to be vulnerable in sharing their life experiences and opinions without fear of being judged.”

The various book clubs also promote a robustly biblical view of diversity. This concept is important to each attending student. Conway believes that “In a world where, politically and socially, we struggle to approach differences, the church must be a beacon that shows how our differences glorify God. Our differences are profoundly God-honoring, and failing to appreciate those differences short-sells the glory of God.”

Scheie has this to say: “First, biblical diversity is reflecting the beauty of God’s creation, the imago dei. Second, James 2 warns against the sin of partiality, which is easy to do when we avoid these conversations. If partiality was serious to James, it should be to us.”

Thomas adds, “God created and loves diversity. All people are valued and loved by God, and the body of Christ should reflect that. The church should acknowledge diversity and seek to reach and include persons of all races and ethnicities,” 

Diversity efforts undertaken by institutions can prompt feelings of concern or skepticism, and understandably so. But unlike those of secular universities, Cedarville’s pursuit of diversity arises from a biblical worldview.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Galatians 3:26-29, Ephesians 2:11-22, and Colossians 3:11 clearly teach that all believers are one in Christ, regardless of ethnicity. This does not render ethnic differences meaningless but rather shows that they have nothing to do with one’s salvation and spiritual status before God. Indeed, God Himself celebrates ethnic diversity, as the multi-ethnic composition of the church in Revelation 5:9-10 and 7:9-10 demonstrates.

“I’m really grateful for this book club, and I hope there will be more in the future. Difficult topics such as diversity require discussion within the context of the community to fully address and heal,” said Scheie.

Conway shared his thoughts: “Oftentimes, diversity initiatives work from the top down. And I believe that such initiatives will ultimately fail. They either must accept that they won’t solve the problem entirely or take a tyrannical approach to force their solution, which only leads to backlash. However, an organization such as the diversity book club leads to growth, change, and understanding that arises from the bottom up, which although harder, does have the potential to solve the problem.”

Noah Tang is a graduate student majoring in Biblical Leadership, and a writer for Cedars. He likes to spend time with friends, ride his bike, and watch movies.

*picture provided by Noah Tang

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