Reported by Cara Vincent
In the past five years at George Fox University (GFU), the William Penn Honors Program (WPHP) has hosted 29 guest lecturers through its lecture series, most of them white men.
“The purpose of the WPHP lecture series is to bring outstanding Christian intellectuals from a variety of fields and disciplines to speak at GFU on topics, authors, and themes that are culturally relevant to our community,” said Dr. Joseph Clair, the dean of the College of Christian Studies, Liberal Arts, and Honors. Clair spearheaded the lecture series after arriving at GFU to direct the WPHP over five years ago.
The goal of the series is noble, but the execution of the series has fallen short of that goal. It has also fallen short of its potential.
Of the 29 lectures that have been scheduled through the lecture series, only three have been given by women. The other 26 lectures were scheduled to be given by men, of which only two were men of color.
As a student of the WPHP who has attended many of the lectures, the lack of gender and racial diversity of the lecturers has become obvious. The lecturers do speak on different culturally relevant topics, but many of them come from fields and disciplines in philosophy, religion, or politics.
“I’d like to see us continue to expand the range of the sorts of speakers and guests to include an even broader range of topics. I want GFU to be known as a place where a world of ideas is made accessible to a broader audience,” Clair said.
In order to fulfill the goal of being relevant to the community of GFU, the lecture series needs to be more focused on representing the community of the church by hosting speakers that come from a variety of academic, racial, and gender backgrounds. The students of GFU want to hear from a more diverse group of speakers.
The hope of expansion is present, but should be more strongly pursued by the WPHP now. It is something that should be demanded and encouraged by students.
To continue down a path of hosting many lecturers who come from similar backgrounds is to continue to fall extremely short of what the lecture series could be.
Expanding the diversity of lecturers and topics gets closer to truly accessing the world of Christian ideas. It also broadens the audience that GFU can reach through these lectures.
Christian ideas on how to engage with the world are present in much more than males who study philosophy, religion, or politics. The WPHP lecture series should receive grace, but it should also be held to higher standards in fulfilling the responsibility of a Christian institution to represent and communicate Christian ideas.