Imago Dei: The Image of God

by Cynndie Hoff

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness...’” Genesis 1:26 (NRSV)

The very essence of God embodies diversity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When He made humankind in His own image, variety was intentional. From the very beginning of biblical teaching, this foundational doctrine establishes that all people reflect something of God's character, and therefore, hold inherent value. Differences among individuals and peoples, then, can only be viewed as an expression of God's boundless creativity, and an opportunity to draw from individual elements, a unity greater than the sum of its parts. Just as God’s children were created in His image, so too, should the Church, indeed, all Christian organizations, reflect the makeup of His Kingdom. “Diversity is not just important as an institutional matter, it emanates out of the very character of who we are as Christians,” said Kevin Mannoia, Ph.D., director of spiritual care for graduate and adult students and former dean of the School of Theology. “Diversity has, at its very root, a Kingdom principle. That principle springs from the work of God in us. There can be no unity without diversity.”

Azusa Pacific University continually strives to incorporate these principles into every aspect of the institution, and has adopted the following statement, approved by the Board of Trustees, as a guidepost in all aspects of recruitment, retention, and training:

“As an evangelical Christian university of disciples and scholars, we believe that it is our duty to fulfill Christ’s command to love our neighbors, who represent myriad differences, with the hope that all people may one day be brought to unity under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We seek to be a comprehensive university that is characterized by a biblical approach to diversity. To approach diversity from this perspective is to acknowledge that diversity can be a potential outlet for human arrogance and sin, while affirming that diversity is an expression of God’s image and boundless creativity.”

As these efforts gain strength and momentum, “The starting point will not be the discipline of diversity as prescribed by federal government or institutional law, but rather, a passion for discovering one of the elemental principles of the Kingdom of God,” said Mannoia. “Most people think of diversity as a negotiated contract between individual groups. For Christians, it goes far deeper than that. We have been shaped, formed, and imprinted with the image of God in us.”

Recruitment

“Diversity is not a black and white issue,” said Adam Shinnick, associate director of human resources recruitment and development. “It encompasses more than the obvious definitions such as race, gender, ethnicity, etc., and includes various backgrounds, work experiences, denominational differences, and more. One of the first steps toward attracting top quality employees is positioning APU as an employer of choice, defined by a vibrant atmosphere characterized by growth and learning. In addition to the university’s long list of benefits such as location, growth, and reputation, diversity must become a prominent element.”

“We are on a good track and we will keep taking additional steps,” said Terry Franson, Ph.D., vice president for student life and dean of students. “Diversity starts at the top. The Board of Trustees is moving consistently in the right direction.” The current board comprises six women and six people of color, the highest percentages in the university’s history. The President’s Cabinet comprises four women, and the Academic Cabinet six women, one of whom is a person of color.

On the staff level, the special assistant for university diversity ensures this momentum continues with purpose and integrity. Setting the bar for excellence in this role, Pamela M. Christian, Ph.D., brings her experience in diversity planning, training, and assessment to Azusa Pacific University. Her candid evaluation of APU reveals both praiseworthy programs and areas for improvement. “The challenges faced at Azusa Pacific University are not insurmountable. There are issues related to social justice (primarily regarding domestic diversity), as well as missions-based perspectives (focusing on international diversity),” said Christian. “We need to interact with those in our own neighborhoods with respect and dignity, while also extending ourselves throughout the globe in fulfillment of the Great Commission. Those entrusted with the task of engaging disciples and scholars for Kingdom service are compelled to leave the ‘ivory tower,’ to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Seeking these relationships, APU initiated Connection, an all-day, diversity-focused preview event reaching out to underrepresented people groups. Connection exposes inner-city youths to the inclusiveness of APU’s campus and promotes the importance of college. Nearly 1,000 students from throughout California attended the event in January. The program included a major and student activity fair. “The support was phenomenal,” said Joy Hoffman, director of multi-ethnic programs. “APU faculty from every school and program turned out to meet people and answer questions about their area.” Other components of the day included an activity on social justice and higher education, a workshop on admissions procedures, and an address by Anthony Gutierrez, a student who co-founded the Multi-Ethnic Student Association 15 years ago. The day culminated with Gospel Sing, an energetic celebration of Gospel music.

“The important thing about Connection,” said Christian, “is that it allows young students to see people of color in roles of leadership.”

One of those leaders, recent-hire Nancy Quiñones, associate dean of students, brings to the table a background rich in cultural experiences. This bilingual Guatemalan, married to a Mexican pastor, grew up in an all-black community in Miami. “Her direct contact with students can only enrich their lives as well,” said Franson.

The Office of Multi-Ethnic Leadership (MEL), which falls under Quiñones span of care in collaboration with Hoffman, offers a unique scholarship. Every year, 10 new students receive $4,000 per year toward their APU education. Carefully screened applicants must possess a 3.0 minimum grade-point average, demonstrate strong leadership abilities, and actively pursue and advocate diversity. “These students make a significant difference on campus,” said Hoffman. “As they learn more about diversity issues, they educate and influence others from their roles as student body leaders.”

Retention

Welcoming new employees and students to campus is relatively easy. The greater challenge, for any organization, comes with creating an environment that makes people want to stay. From the staff standpoint, it is a matter of the right blend of tangibles and intangibles that keeps quality professionals on campus. “Our motto is: Work. Learn. Grow,” said Shinnick. “We offer a thriving environment of professionals at the nation’s second largest evangelical Christian university at an unbeatable location, but that is not enough. The best way to make any job worth the long haul is to generate an atmosphere of inclusiveness and family.” APU enjoys a century-old reputation for what many call the spirit of place, a sense of purpose and belonging that produces exceptional job satisfaction and inspires long-term loyalty.

“Word of mouth is our best recruiting tool,” said Shinnick, “and that kind of advertising only comes from employees who perceive deep inherent value in their workplace. That is what we strive for at APU – a place you want to tell your friends about.”

Word of mouth has always been a primary reason for student enrollment as well. In recent years, more and more students of color are part of that grapevine because of the increasingly diverse student body. The 2003-04 academic year’s undergraduate enrollment included 894 people of color, and the graduates comprised 1,166.

This gradual but steady shift owes much of its success to the student life programs that work toward unity among all students. One way APU develops this environment is through the Heritage Month Program. Each month represents a different culture (often coinciding with the national calendar) such as Latino/ Hispanic Heritage, Native American History, European Heritage, Black History, Women’s History, and Asian Pacific History. Each celebration begins with a kickoff on Cougar Walk with samples of food from that culture, and continues with various events exposing students to different cultures in ways they may never otherwise experience.

>"Most people think of diversity as a negotiated contract between individual groups. For Christians, it goes far deeper than that. We have been shaped, formed, and imprinted with the image of God in us."

Culture clubs also serve to promote understanding and unity among student groups. Each club supports one ethnic group, such as the Asian Pacific Club, but they all hold to one overriding purpose statement with the common goals of educating and unifying. “The groups are not exclusive,” said Hoffman. “In fact, there are several Caucasian members of the Black Students Association (BSA). One African-American student said, ‘If BSA were only for black students, I wouldn’t be a part of it. It’s about unity.’ The philosophy is: Get out of your box, and invite others into yours. The goal is to dispel the scary part of diversity and embrace the good.”

Training

Favorable statistics and ground-breaking programs signify positive steps toward creating a community of variety, but true diversity is a mindset. Participation in cultural activities loses all meaning in the absence of life-changing understanding. Achieving this level of awareness, however, requires the intentional relinquishing of preconceived ideas and prejudices held, in many cases, for a lifetime.

At APU, this step begins with comprehensive training. Last year, a diversity team comprised of 15 faculty, staff, and students, attended a national conference in Washington, DC. The experience stripped away barriers and imparted practical ways to overcome biases. Now, the team holds training sessions on campus to help all members of the APU community embrace diversity. “When I began my role as president in 2000,” said President Jon R. Wallace DBA, “I recognized that APU was on a journey, and that we needed to move strongly toward the goal of representing the wonderfully diverse world God created, and that meant a purposeful pursuit of change in our curriculum, faculty, and staff. We needed to dispel the idea that diversity simply means surrounding ourselves with people who do not look like us. A vast representation of values and experiences is a much greater measurement.”

Imago Dei, APU’s appointed Diversity Training Team, began educating personnel through presentations and exercises starting with administrators, followed by the areas of admissions, student life, and campus safety. The program’s effectiveness caught the attention of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation on their March visit, prompting one WASC official to recognize its “great potential”

>"As an evangelical Christian university of disciples and scholars, we believe that it is our duty to fulfill Christ’s command to love our neighbors, who represent myriad differences, with the hope that all people may one day be brought to unity under the Lordship of Jesus Christ."

In addition to these formal training sessions, faculty and staff also attended several seminars and practical workshops during this year’s annual Common Day of Learning. Students also hold their own versions of training. The annual Diversity Retreat, a collaborative effort with Concordia University, takes 10 students from each school to a youth hostel in San Pedro, California, for an intense, three-day experience. Through introspective discussions and interactive exercises, the students compare notes about their encounters on campus. “The purpose is to increase awareness and advocacy in all its forms – even subtle ones,” said Hoffman. “Sometimes it simply means adjusting one’s language.” The participants represent diversity in ethnicity, gender, age, and field of study. The important outcome is that they bring what they learn back to campus and apply it in whatever way is appropriate for that student.

On campus, hundreds more students immerse themselves in activities just as compelling. Director of student success and adjunct professor, Phil Shabaz, recently restructured the Beginnings course required of all incoming freshmen. “The Millennium Generation demanded a revamping for the course to be relevant,” said Shabaz. The semester-long class used to meet lecture-style to accommodate the 300 students per section. Today, the crowd divides into small groups of 10. “This is a serious study of authentic Christianity through the consideration of love from three perspectives: love yourself, love those who are hurt, and love those who are different,” said Shabaz. While each deals with tolerance at different levels, the third section is most explicit. The class views a montage of video clips portraying issues of race, prejudice, gender, and self-image. Discussion follows that inevitably ends with students walking away with a new point of view.

“Somewhere in our culture, we decided some sins are acceptable and others are not, breeding hatred,” said Shabaz. “In Beginnings, we ask tough questions like, ‘Which sins in my life am I comfortable with? What do I pretend is acceptable to God? Am I truly Christ-like? If so, who am I Christ to?’” These queries spark dynamic conversations that make lasting impressions. “To measure the results, I pre- and post-test students regarding their views about themselves and others. The outcomes are encouraging. Typical comments include: ‘I better understand the dynamics of stereotyping and racism, and how to respond,’ and ‘I have a clearer picture of God’s call on my life.’”

Henry David Thoreau said it well – “Things do not change; we change.” Many issues of prejudice and hatred faced today remain unscathed by centuries of struggles; indeed, have been fortified by as many years of constant fueling. No, things do not change. But by the grace of God, people can. APU does not chase elusive ideals or national quotas. “The numbers game only causes division,” said Wallace. “It’s the heart we’re after. Once we create an atmosphere of diversity built on values, the numbers will naturally reflect the change and signify the university’s health. There is no magic goal that will signal the end of this journey. We are headed to a place where every Christian will feel at home at APU. That’s when we will know.”