The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago Antiracism Transformation Team (ATT) held its first team building meeting via Zoom in September. The 29-member team includes students, alumni, faculty, administrators, staff, and representatives from two Chicago area seminaries. It was formed to ensure that 51% of its members are Black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC). Guided by Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism (Chicago ROAR), each month for the next 10 months the team will gather to develop an action plan that will move LSTC toward becoming an antiracist and interculturally competent institution.
“LSTC holds ‘being attentive to diversity’ as one of its values, but we still have not aligned our institutional practices with that value, especially in terms of confronting racism and white supremacy,” said James Nieman, president. “I am grateful that this team will do a thorough analysis and make recommendations for transforming the school.”
Members of the ATT note the need for this work.
Ismael Calderon, MDiv student, said, “I have observed an openness and slow awareness of this problem among the student community and institution staff. We must continue to heal the wounds generated by blind institutional racism from all angles of the community.”
PhD student Denise Rector said, “I believe this institution is still operating on the idea that addressing racism is about diversity, as opposed to addressing racism by sharing power and leveling inequities; that the institution is more concerned about “not seeming racist” (as much of America is, unfortunately) instead of actively sacrificing power to be anti-racist.”
In 2015, after a racial incident on campus, Nieman, reached out to Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism, also known as Chicago ROAR for advice. LSTC began a partnership with them and implemented a multi-year plan to put LSTC on the path to becoming an antiracist institution. In the last four years, Chicago ROAR has held annual antiracism workshops for LSTC faculty, staff and students and guided a task force to gain approval for and recruit a permanent antiracism transformation team.
Alumni members of the team shared their experience of past efforts at antiracism training and the need for systemic changes.
Rev. Janelle Neubauer (2017, MDiv), who joins the team from her ministry in Rwanda, said, “My first observation of racism was in the sheer ignorance and defensiveness of students like myself who rebuffed the idea that we were part of such a structure. Unfortunately, we are taught to believe that we know ourselves better than anyone else ever could, but it became apparent to me that I, along with my other white classmates, understood very little of our impact in spite of our 'best' intentions.”
Rev. Fanya Burford-Berry (2018, MDiv) said, “Anti-racism work is about the transformation of systems which is hard work. It has been 20 years since my first workshop in anti-racism, and I feel anti-racism work has had some achievements. There is more awareness of what it means to be anti-racist, and there is an agreement on the definition of systemic racism. There are a lot more workshops and trainings regarding this issue. I feel it is so urgent yet at times I place it on the back burner to deal with other issues.”
The team’s work is grounded in LSTC’s commitment to the gospel. Nash Shaffer, an MDiv student, said, “William Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? (Act III, scene I) ….’ Jesus and Shakespeare remind us that human beings do not have a franchise on pain therefore when one race hurts at the expense of another race we all are damaged. The commitment to racial justice is a commitment to all humanity.”
Institutional transformation teams usually meet in person but the global pandemic is challenging LSTC’s team to find other ways to carry out its work.
“We would prefer to meet in person,” said Vima Couvertier-Cruz, admissions recruiter and acting international student services coordinator, who is also the liaison for the ATT. “But we are undeterred in moving ahead with this important work, which is more urgent than ever. Chicago ROAR is developing new innovative online tools and our team will be one of the first to use them.”
Over the next 10 months, team members will develop a shared framework for its work. They will learn how to conduct an audit of ways LSTC perpetuates racism, what the major concerns are within the school and ways to change them. This extensive analysis will culminate in an action plan for LSTC that the ATT will complete in Spring 2021.
Admissions Recruiter, Acting International Student Services Coordinator and Antiracism Transformation Team Liaison
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The Lutheran School of Theology (LSTC) is dedicated to bearing witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. Based in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, it is the leading urban Lutheran seminary training students for purposeful vocations in the global community. Aligned with its Lutheran heritage and built on a foundation of intellectual rigor, LSTC’s innovative, nationally recognized curriculum gives students skills for visionary Christian leadership in the public sphere.