After news broke declaring the end of the WGA Strike, I immediately booked tickets for three of the Strike Force Five’s shows on their first days back in the studio. I love late night talk shows! I’ve attended almost all of the US based ones. My first live taping was The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Before YouTube and streaming made it possible to view them on-demand, I used to stay up late to laugh at the monologues. I remember many hilarious bits and some cringeworthy moments too. Even years later, I remember a joke Jay told about detergent. In the punchline, he wondered aloud why detergent would boast about its ability to wash out bloodstains. I rolled my eyes and instantly thought “there must be no women in that writers room.” I later I found out I was right. Of course I was. Had any women been present when that joke was pitched, they could have pointed out exactly why it would go over like a lead balloon. Although not all women have periods, any woman would have been more attuned to the fact that washing out blood from clothes is actually a big deal. The punchline simply didn’t hold up. It was obvious who wasn’t in the room.
My hometown of New York City is closing down 5th Avenue to vehicle traffic this winter. This is the second year of its experiment to make the city more pedestrian-friendly. In fact, many cities all over the world are attempting to become “more walkable” by encouraging people to travel by foot, bikes, or public transportation. I recently watched a video encouraging this trend and suggesting that more towns should follow suit by creating barriers that disincentivize driving. As I watched it, I sighed. It’s commendable that the people pitching these ideas care about the environment. But it’s also clear that these brainstormers often don’t include caregivers or people with disabilities. As a member of the “sandwich cohort,” I have people a generation above me and a generation below me that I care for. Walking, biking, or even taking public transportation with either a child or an elderly adult can be exceedingly difficult. Travelling with both at the same time is nigh impossible. And that’s before accounting for any mental or physical impairments or mobility challenges. Having more “walkable” cities is nice. But when it’s accomplished by making the area hostile to cars, there are entire sectors of the population that get excluded. When it comes to these planning committees, it’s easy to see who is absent.
Many times, I’ve visited a church building or read the Sabbath School lesson and wondered, “wasn’t there anyone who could’ve told them they didn’t take group X into consideration?” In those situations, more often than not, the decision-makers were lacking diversity in one area or another—be it gender, ability status, age, race, etc. The demographic(s) not represented when planning a project will often find their needs overlooked in the execution of those plans. That’s not to say the planners were being intentionally exclusionary. Nevertheless, that doesn’t change the end result. The effect will be the same unless you decide to be intentionally inclusionary.
When we are not members of, or adjacent to, a certain community, it’s not uncommon to be oblivious to the ways that community may be left out. This is why having diverse representation is important. It’s not merely for optics sake—it's to help minimize the likelihood of missing the mark in glaringly important ways. If you aren’t personally impacted by a decision, you probably won’t notice the people that it does impact.
If we want everyone to be welcome, if we want everyone in on the laughs, if we want everyone engaged, then we have to purposefully make room for everyone from the outset. Yet these basic concepts of diversity and inclusion have become bywords in some circles. How does anyone come to the conclusion that welcoming people is a bad thing? I’ve written before about the utility of diversity as well as the definition of true inclusion. In light of recent moves at Andrews University, I am compelled to do so once more. There still remains a great deal of confusion and resistance toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Why? Are some people pro-discrimination? Quite literally, the opposite of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” is “homogeneity, inequity, and exclusion.” Do people think that’s what Christians should stand for instead?
God says in Isaiah 56:7, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” In Matthew 28:19, we are commissioned to “go teach all nations.” In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul proclaims his strategy of becoming all things to all people so by all means he might save some. In Revelation 14, the Three Angels’ Messages are given to “every nation, kindred, tongue and people.” Repeatedly and consistently, God acknowledges the variety of creation and humanity. We are implored to recognize and embrace diversity for the sake of the Gospel. How can the Good News go to different nations, kindreds, tongues, and people if we ignore that any differences exist?
Although it may not be, it sure seems intentionally exclusionary to retool the Andrews University role of Vice President for Culture and Inclusion into an “Assistant to the President,” whose job description specifically leaves out key responsibilities such as ensuring services towards those with disabilities, protecting against age discrimination, and providing cultural programming. Regardless of whether this is merely demonstrative of regressive ignorance—as opposed to calculated malevolence—the effect is still the same. When these decisions were made, the consideration for certain groups was left out. It’s abundantly clear who was not in the room where it happened.
Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD, is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a clinical neuropsychologist. She is president of the Society for Black Neuropsychology.
Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found by clicking here.
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