December 11, 2018 : By Drew Menard
The fall meeting of the Liberty University Board of Trustees marked an important milestone in Liberty’s history. On Nov. 2, the board voted unanimously to adopt a Resolution on Equity and Inclusion, forging a course for the university to capitalize on opportunities to improve diversity for a sustainable future.
With the changing demographics of higher education, the resolution acknowledges the centrality of “fostering a diverse, co-educational student body and an inclusive educational environment reflective of the Body of Christ” as well as the need to utilize proactive measures to recruit, retain, and support highly qualified and diverse students. The resolution also recognizes that the purpose of the Office of Equity & Inclusion is to cultivate not only a diverse student body but also “a culturally and ethnically diverse leadership team, faculty, (and) staff.”
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion/Chief Diversity Officer Greg Dowell worked with Liberty’s attorneys to draft the resolution, and President Jerry Falwell brought it before the board for a vote.
The university took a vigorous step of intentionality in January when it formed the division of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. The offices under the division are responsible for leading the development and implementation of initiatives that support Liberty’s desire to have culturally and ethnically diverse students, faculty, staff, and leadership, free from all unbiblical and unlawful discrimination.
Falwell was the catalyst for the formation of the new division and remained an integral part of the adoption process for the Resolution on Equity and Inclusion.
“This resolution is an important opportunity to model diversity in higher education from a biblical perspective, and, when done right, it fits perfectly within the boundaries of the law,” Falwell said. “Liberty has always sought to provide an educational experience that celebrates the unique ways in which we all reflect the image of God, and from that understanding, to foster an environment where students from a variety of cultures and backgrounds achieve academically and grow in their faith together.”
The new goal, he said, is to enhance student, faculty, and staff recruitment, retention, and advocacy, making improvements that can be evaluated annually.
It’s a mission that is personal for Dowell, a former Liberty student who also served on staff under the university’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr.
“To understand what these words mean to me, you must first understand what these words meant to the founder. Jerry Falwell Sr. had a vision for Liberty that embodied and created a culture of inclusion before there were words on any page saying that is who we are. Within his sights was an institution that would provide world-class athletics and academics for all who wished to achieve at the highest level. What made his vision so powerful was that Christ would be at the center of everything, and because of that, Liberty University would be an inclusive institution, in a position to Train Champions for Christ in all walks of life. When you hear terms like ‘all’ and ‘champions,’ I see how the mission mirrors the principles of the faith. Any person who desires to attend Liberty is welcome without regard to race, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and so on. Jesus made the same type of invitation to all who believe and accept Him as their Savior. Therefore, the trustees’ directive is to promote and embrace this level of cultural acceptance while continuing to train champions of all ethnic backgrounds.”
Dowell said the resolution also serves to correct a misconception that Liberty does not embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“That sentiment is just inaccurate. Liberty’s programs and activities have always been open regardless of race, color, ancestry, religion, age, sex, national origin, pregnancy or childbirth, disability or military veteran status,” Dowell said. “Liberty has always believed and practiced ‘whosoever will may come.’ We have not always been as intentional as we should have been in striving to attract a diverse faculty, staff, and student population, and I believe false impressions may have deterred underrepresented groups from giving Liberty serious consideration. This resolution can help us address that challenge.”