Concordia College aspires to be a diverse community that affirms an abundance of identities, experiences, and perspectives in order to imagine, examine, and implement possibilities for individual and communal thriving. Critical thinking grounded in the liberal arts compels us to participate in intentional dialogue, careful self-reflection, and honest interactions about difference, power, and inequity. As responsible engagement in the world calls us to recognize worlds that are familiar or unfamiliar, visible or less visible, Concordia will act to increase and support diversity in all areas of college life.

— Concordia College Statement on Diversity, adopted Spring 2018

Aspiring to be something is one thing. Doing the work to get there is another. We’ve all made New Year’s resolutions, set goals, or had dreams that didn’t pan out and, oftentimes, the reason why is simple: we didn’t have a plan or, if we did, we didn’t follow it.

Aspiring to be a more diverse community is an ambitious goal for Concordia College and one that has required a plan and a leader who is diligent about following it.

Since Dr. Edward Antonio was hired as the chief diversity officer in 2017, he has been working to develop and implement a robust series of programs and plans to “increase and support diversity in all areas of college life.”

Highlights of this important work include:

  • In-person (prepandemic) and virtual conversations to share and learn from one another in an environment that allows students, staff, and faculty to be real, honest, and supportive.

  • Implicit bias training for all staff and faculty to help us recognize our own culpability in systems of racial injustice and faith intolerance.

  • Community action plans with Fargo-Moorhead leaders that turn research and dialogue into action for change. (See sidebar story: “Compassionate Justice”)

  • A change in our curriculum, core, and majors to include a focus on the beauty of diversity and understanding of power and privilege.

  • Exploring ways and providing opportunities to call on the arts – music, theatre, fine arts – to express and engage in the diversity of American and world cultures.

  • Investing financially in scholarships, staff and faculty positions, and partnerships to increase diversity on campus.

This is a good start. But there is more work to do. Unfortunately, our students can face discrimination on campus. They deal with comments and behavior that are rooted in ignorance, bias, and racism. This may be hard to hear and, for many, a little shocking and difficult to believe. Concordia College is known for being welcoming and supportive. The college can be described in this way for the majority of students but, for some, it is not.

“When you are treated a certain way, you are being told that you are unwanted. This is not a good feeling, but something I am accustomed to,” says a sophomore student who is Muslim. “I am grateful for the staff and cohort of students who are supportive and who keep me motivated to finish my education.”

 To combat religious prejudice, religion professor Dr. Jacqueline Bussie is leading the Forum on Faith and Life, which focuses on interfaith understanding. One example of her work includes collaborating with Dining Services to address the dietary needs of Muslim and Hindu students on campus. Students are taking charge as well. The Concordia chapter of Better Together is working to promote interfaith relationships on campus and in the community and, this past academic year, students formed the Muslim Student Association.

In an effort to create a more diverse population of students, Concordia’s culture is shifting in positive ways. As with many changes, there are some difficulties and challenges throughout that process.

“Dismantling discrimination isn’t an easy thing to do and change doesn’t happen overnight. True transformation takes time – we have to allow our community the time to learn, to change, and to grow,” Antonio says. “This is not just about programs where we share meals and shake hands. This is about policies and procedures in our strategic plan. We are requiring training. We are providing workshops and gatherings that are well attended. I believe we will continue to make progress if we can do the hard work together.”

True transformation takes time – we have to allow our community the time to learn, to change, and to grow. – Dr. Edward Antonio

Last semester, the Alumni Relations Office hosted a virtual event featuring two members of the National Alumni Board (NAB) – the Rev. Kenneth Wheeler ’74 and Ashley Thompson ’16 – who shared their thoughts and led a conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Wheeler illustrated how racial injustice has prevailed through the years dating back to slavery and rearing its ugly head time and time again, recently culminating with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. He asked participants to consider the past and present, their own privilege, and what the college must do moving forward to be an anti-racist organization.

“I hope this will not be the last conversation,” Wheeler said as he concluded the virtual event. “We are fighting for our humanity. I want this nation to see me as a human being. It is time for America to make black, brown, red, and white people whole. That is my hope.”

Thompson shared her perspective as a more recent graduate, as a former staff member in the Admission Office, and as a member of the NAB.

She also provided practical tips on how to be an ally to people of color: 

  • Educate yourself – reach out to the alumni office for a list of books and resources. 

  • Learn about historical achievements and contributions by people of color that are underrepresented in textbooks and in the classroom.

  • Explore other cultures through art, music, movies, and literature.

  • Be an advocate – use your voice, share ideas, take action.

  • Learn about your own biases and engage in training for correction. 

  • Listen – ask questions and seek truth.

“Programs are one thing; lived experience is something else,” Antonio says. “What is needed is change in culture and attitudes, as well as the courage and willingness to develop meaningful relationships across religious and other kinds of difference.”

Office of Diversity

Originally published in the 2021 Concordia Magazine