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Private colleges seek racial, not religious diversity

By Courtney Erndt
Capital News Service

LANSING — Some of Michigan’s private colleges are pushing for more racial and ethnic diversity, but not actively seeking more religious diversity.

Colleges like Hope, Calvin, University of Detroit Mercy, Albion, Cornerstone and Concordia that are affiliated with denominations of Christianity are reaching out to minorities in recruitment. Yet, religious diversity is not a goal.

Hope College professor of religion Barry Bandstra said, “We do promote racial and ethnic diversity. And we are naturally somewhat diverse religiously, though not as much as some students and faculty would like.”

Hope requires all students to complete two religion courses before graduation. However, of the 21 religion courses offered, only three have a focus other than Christianity.

Bandstra said, “Not all our students are Christian, though faculty needs to be.”

And Hope professor of religion Steve Bouma-Prediger said, “The majority of our students are Christians of one sort or another, with many nondenominational Protestants, many traditional Protestants, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and many Roman Catholics.”

Bandstra said Hope draws students through strong programs in the sciences and arts, not necessarily because it’s a faith-based college.

“Hope self-identifies as a Christian college, though there is no formal pledge students or faculty must sign, so it’s different from places like Wheaton College in Illinois,” he added.

Wheaton requires an annual reaffirmed doctrinal statement by its board of trustees, faculty and staff that ensures a biblical perspective in academics.

Bouma-Prediger said, “I think it is safe to say that religion plays a large role in the life of Hope College, though students are free to become involved or not.”

Calvin’s vice president of enrollment management, Russ Bloem, said, “Diversity is an ideal that Calvin holds dear and we are constantly seeking to increase not only the number of minority and international students on campus, but also to uphold diversity in the world as an accurate reflection of the heterogeneous church universal.”

There is no mandate to increase religious diversity at Calvin, Bloem said. However, it does ask applicants to list their church and religious affiliation.

According to Bloem, 0.1 percent of Calvin’s students say they follow a religion other than a Christian denomination and 3.8 percent don’t disclose their religion.

“We ask this because there is a denominational grant for students coming from a specific denomination, as Calvin College is officially affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church,” says Bloem.

Bloem said this year’s essay question on Calvin’s application asks how prospective students expect to contribute to a Christian learning environment.

“Other than making very clear that Calvin’s campus is distinctively Christian, it does not assume or require the essayist to be Christian,” said Bloem. “We have commitments as faculty and staff to be intentional about education on issues of diversity.”

Hope offers scholarships to minority students, including the Bryne, Carpenter Family, Jacob E. and Leona M. Nyenhuis diversity scholarships.

Calvin has the Entrada Scholars Program, intended for racial minorities including African-American, Native American, Latino and Asian American students.

Entrada scholars, who are juniors and seniors in high school, are assigned an academic coach who attends a three- or four-credit Calvin course with them and leads a study period following the class.

After completion of the course, Entrada awards participants a $4,000 scholarship that’s renewable for up to four years and can reach $16,000.

Calvin also grants Mosaic Awards, a scholarship designed for minority or majority students from a culturally diverse background and with a grade point average of 2.5. The Mosaic Award can reach $30,000, granting $6,000 per year up to five years.

Bloem said, “Calvin provides opportunities for students to list their racial, ethnic, national and linguistic diversity on his or her application. That information is not mandatory, but if applicants wish to share, we do like to have this full picture on their profiles.”

The proportion of Calvin’s minority undergraduates increased from 6.3 percent in 2008 to 12.1 percent in 2012, Bloem said.

Department of Civil Rights information officer Jacki Miller said her agency has had no complaints during the past decade about private colleges’ failure to accept students due to religion.

If a college receives a portion of its funding from the federal government, it is subject to federal laws against discrimination, including in admissions, Miller said.

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