Is there a diversity problem at evangelical colleges?

American evangelical colleges are under pressure to diversify their student body and faculty as well as their worship programs according to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Feb. 5). The recent controversy over the firing of professor Larycia Hawkins from Wheaton College over her beliefs about Islam (claiming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, for instance) has spilled over into wide-ranging criticisms about how inclusive evangelical colleges are to minority, especially African-American, faculty and students. This criticism is taking place as the proportion of minority undergraduates has steadily risen at evangelical schools—from 18 to 28 percent since 2004 (among all private colleges, minority students make up 33 percent of enrollments). Beth McMurtrie writes that at a handful of colleges in states such as Texas and California, minority students make up nearly half the campus. The article focuses more on the outcomes and experiences of African-Americans on evangelical campuses, citing research showing that black students at evangelical schools have graduation rates 15 percent lower than at other undergraduate institutions.


McMurtrie writes that the dilemma for evangelical colleges is that they expect a higher level of community and unity than other institutions, with minority students feeling that they have to “attend the same churches, for example, or join the same Bible study groups…. At the same time, Christian colleges that emphasize social justice and other relevant Biblical teachings may be better positioned than many secular ones to make diversity central to their missions….” Because most of the evangelical colleges affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities originate from white and European theological and church traditions, the move to include other worship styles has proved challenging. At Wheaton College, an effort to include a black worship service was ridiculed by some students in one much publicized controversy. At an institution such as Calvin College, faculty are required to attend the Christian Reformed Church, a policy which black faculty have criticized for excluding their black church traditions. Sociologist Michael Emerson of North Park University says that the “big challenge has been: how do you preserve a subculture that is Christian but formed out of a white understanding of Christianity, while embracing diversity?”