Minority teachers are underrepresented at theological schools and need more financial help and encouragement to become faculty, according to a prominent group of scholars dedicated to improving religious education.
Most teachers at theological schools are White men, and more than a third of the 253 U.S. and Canadian theological schools accredited by the Association of Theological Schools report they don’t even have a minority on their faculty.
Theology scholars from across the United States gathered this past weekend at Vanderbilt University for a meeting of the Fund for Theological Education, an Atlanta-based advocacy group that aims to grow the number of minorities in teaching positions at theological schools.
“The diversity deficit in this discipline remains pervasive and student-scholars are on a road that is often long and lonely,” said Dr. Sharon Watson Fluker, vice president of doctoral programs and administration for the fund.
There has been a slight increase recently in the number of minority faculty in theological schools. But of the 3,676 total faculty who teach at schools accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, 3,028 are White and 2,339 of those are men.
Dr. Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the association, notes that about 31 percent of theological school students are minorities compared with 17 percent of faculty. About one in three U.S. residents is a minority, according to the Census Bureau.
“It is moving, but it’s not enough,” Aleshire said. “We’re anxious for more. If we’re going to be educating a generation of ministers dealing with the American population, they’re going to have to be more culturally and racially wise to do that work well.”
Fluker said the diversity efforts have to start earlier. Students need mentoring from professors and more financial support from theological schools.
Over the past decade, the Fund for Theological Education has awarded about $4 million to 214 minority doctoral students. The money helps the students complete degree programs and provide support for finding teaching jobs.
A 2009 report from the fund shows that 79 percent of its doctoral fellowship recipients now teach at theological schools or universities.
Aleshire said theological schools face several hurdles to getting more minority students to join the faculty. Many Blacks with doctorates end up becoming pastors for congregations. Others who do want to stay in higher education teach religious studies at a college or university, where the pay is better.
“The issue is supply — there just aren’t enough (minority students) going through Ph.D. programs and then there are often multiple options for them once they’re done,” Aleshire said.
Monique Moultrie, 31, a Black Vanderbilt graduate student working toward a doctorate in theological education, said she plans to apply for teaching jobs this fall.
“Having professors and students in the classroom who represent the variety of our world is essential to opening students’ eyes to understanding religion and how it impacts the world,” Moultrie said.
The Vanderbilt seminar includes programs to raise diversity awareness. The participants will get a walking tour of civil rights sites in the city and hear from the Rev. James L. Lawson, a civil rights activist whose fight to desegregate the city’s lunch counters got him kicked out of Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1960. He’s now a distinguished professor at Vanderbilt who teaches religion.
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