Intercultural Studies Lecture Series Features Scholarship on Inclusion, Diversity and Belonging

04-12-2018


by Kristina Garvelink (M.S. ’15)

Grand Rapids Theological Seminary's 2017-18 Intercultural Studies Lectures Series aimed to expand attendees' understanding of inclusion, diversity and acceptance. Two free public lectures given by guest speakers Marcy L. Peake, faculty specialist and director of diversity and community outreach initiatives for Western Michigan University, and Tory White, church services coordinator for Christian Learning Center (CLC) Network, discussed the role of cultural factors, biases and privilege in light of hospitality, accessibility and belonging. Dr. Kendra Jackson, assistant professor of counseling, coordinated the events.

"Inclusion is a term commonly stated, but often not understood nor embraced," Jackson said. "It is common for individuals to use the term in sentences as we facilitated discussions; however, many fail to realize how this particular term is a word of action.

"Inclusion is defined as the act of including or incorporating something or someone. Inclusion is also the incorporation of ideas and diverse perspectives. When individuals engage in the act of inclusion, we are seeing the value, strengths and creativity someone brings."

To begin the series, Peake's fall lecture entitled "Creating Community Spaces to Include Not Exclude" considered how each individual's awareness of his or her own privilege can promote compassion among members of a diverse community.

"We get hung up on how people conflict with us and lose sight of the mission of Christ," Jackson said. "Peake's lecture looked at the idea of inclusion and acceptance rather than tolerance. It prompted participants to ask a number of questions: What are my privileges, and how can I help someone else? What actions do I have that may be facilitating an environment of oppression, and how can I change that?"

As a continuation of the dialogue, White's spring lecture entitled "Universal Design for Worship: Tools for Inclusion" examined practical ways that language and actions can foster inclusion in ministry and worship contexts.

"Through her lecture," Jackson said, "she provided participants with a variety of strategies and tools that can serve as a catalyst for creating a space for individuals with disabilities, where each person feels included, welcomed and valued. White instructed that through our words and actions, we can promote inclusion by utilizing universal design to unify all people to accomplish greater things together in a ministry."

Providing practical applications for applying research principles, Peake and White challenged participants with new opportunities to extend hospitality and welcome toward individuals in their spheres of influence.

"Part of influencing or being an influencer for Christ is about allowing God to use us as His vessel to assist in unifying His people," Jackson said. "However, in order to unify people, Christians must understand the value of inclusion and find value in the gifts and abilities that each person brings to a ministry or community. When there is a lack of inclusion, individuals experience feelings of worthlessness, self-doubt and will experience the struggle of living passionately and purposefully.

"In order for men and women to excel with influencing our world for Christ, we must be willing to walk in the likeness of Christ and follow in His footsteps. As we allow God's love, understanding and kindness to be reflected in our lives, then we as Christians are able to influence the world."

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In the fall, the Intercultural Studies Lecture Series will increase the breadth of this year's conversation, focusing on the relationship between intercultural competence, advocacy, acceptance and inclusion.

For additional study resources related to these topics, Jackson recommended the following books: