The following is a transcript of the message shared by the Coalition of International Students and Allies (CISA) at Columbia Theological Seminary on March 20, 2019.
Greetings to our friends and allies.
We believe that Jesus loved and ministered to those living on the margins, and as Christians we are called to do the same. We feel that it is important that our voices be heard and our experiences as immigrants/ internationals students at Columbia Theological Seminary (CTS) be valued. The reason we are coming to the public for help is because our core proposals during our conversation with the Administration were not given serious consideration in their response to our conversations since January 31.
We have since created an online petition that explains our current context which you can find here - Our petition which has collected over 700 signatures in the past 48 hours. We are deeply grateful for friends who are supporting this cause not only locally but friends beyond America who care about the wellbeing of the global church.
Immigrant Students are one of the largest minority groups at Columbia. CTS proudly states on its website and marketing materials that CTS represents 27 states, 16 countries, 37 denominations and religious traditions and that 50% of its 300+ students are persons of color. Immigrant students – both domestic and international – make up one of the the largest minority populations at Columbia. Students of Korean descent are the largest immigrant group at Columbia. We the immigrants represent the global church as Christianity is on the rise outside Global North and North America.
According to an Association of Theological Schools Report from 2012, the racial/ethnic student population has grown more than 55 percent in seminaries while in stark contrast, White student enrollment for the same period declined by 18.7%. Countless articles since that time have covered the continuing decline of American seminaries, and how many schools actively solicit domestic and international immigrant students to help keep their schools open.
How CTS treats its immigrant and international students will leave a lasting mark on their legacy as the global church continues to grow more multiracial, multi-ethnic and multilingual, and less White/European/North American. Not having the Department of International Programs means less resources for international students.
Some students seem to believe that the decision made by President Van Dyk will make hardly a difference to international students. It is self evident that a move from having a dedicated Department with full-time staff to no dedicated Department and work split up among staff in other departments focused on other work, would be detrimental to the students.
The issue started with the President’s decision to dismantle the one Department dedicated to serving and assisting immigrant students. It’s not a fair representation to say somehow we are creating a problem equal to CTS administration. We are speaking out against a decision made without our input, even though administration claims they did have our input, and which was not made with the international students’ best interests in mind. President Van Dyk’s unilateral decision, her paternalistic and racially-biased treatment of students’ concerns once we learned of her decision, and the critical importance of having culturally-appropriate and culturally-trained faculty leading a department dedicated to one of the largest student populations at CTS, is why we are continuing to speak out. We deserve advocacy and representation, we are not asking for much!
The goal of CISA is to demand respect, equity and fair treatment for all immigrant students, particularly International students.
Despite the significance of our dollars, enrollment and (for work/ study students) our labor which all benefits CTS, President Van Dyk disbanded the one Department focused exclusively on immigrant and international students without any input from the students that Department serves.
Through the Administration’s recent decisions and purported “strategic realignments,” Columbia Theological Seminary’s administration and the President’s Council has demonstrated that they do not care to support the immigrant and international community nor the global church. We want CTS’ internationally-focused mission statement and values to align with their actual treatment of immigrant students. We object to CTS’ pandering to Korean and other immigrant students for our dollars and enrollment while treating us – both students and faculty – as third-class.
We want future immigrant and international students to feel welcomed, represented and heard at CTS.
We are repeating our proposals because we believe they are the best solutions to creating a long-term positive environment for immigrant students and because it give us a place to build upon in our ongoing negotiations. The Administration has refused to provide a reasonable alternative for us, and we have every right to continue raising our demands before leadership. We propose the following solutions to the administration:
- The reinstatement of the Office of International Programs;
- The Director of the Office of International Programs be filled by an immigrant faculty member who is globally trained and empathetic to the interests of immigrant and international students; and
- Seats at the decision-making table for representatives of the Coalition of International Students and Allies (CISA) when key decisions are made related to the Office of International Programs, or decisions impacting immigrant and/or international students as a whole.
We are not pretending to represent ALL CTS students. We have created a name for those students who support the re-establishment of the Office of International Programs, to be clear in our messaging that we are a large group of immigrant students and allies at the school.
We acknowledge that Columbia Theological Seminary’s International Student community is diverse, and we acknowledge that we are not univocal. Yet, it is to be noted that a significant majority of immigrant students and faculty at CTS want to reinstate the Office of International Programs and have it filled by an immigrant faculty member who is globally trained and empathetic to the interests of immigrants and international students. There will always be space for disagreement when there is a broad and diverse group of students from across the globe; however, we believe having universal agreement is not possible nor required to bring attention to racially-biased practices that are being called out by a large immigrant community and allies at Columbia.
Discomfort by those in power and leadership is to be expected when they are challenged; we are not responsible for their emotional response and will not stop seeking justice to mollify personal feelings. It is uncomfortable for us too to speak truth to power. But people in authority and power will feel uncomfortable because their actions are being questioned, and that is a necessary by-product when we as minority people fight for inclusion. American democracy is built on the courage and activism of disadvantaged minorities – without that, we would fall to authoritarianism. We also lift up our own histories and ancestors who have resisted and spoke out against unfair practices and governments to liberate their country and people. Just recently we saw a million Koreans protesting out in the streets against the President, which led to her removal. We cannot forget our own histories and the courage of the few who fought for freedom for all which we benefit from now.
While our petition is focused on the treatment of immigrant students and faculty at CTS, we stand with and in solidarity with African American, Indigenous, and all other students and faculty of color who wish to learn in a truly inclusive, multicultural environment. We will steadfastly resist attempts by CTS to use traditional “divide and conquer” tactics.
We are also insistent on the overall need for immigrant services to be led by an experienced immigrant faculty member. We are outraged that President Van Dyk’s decision has led to losing Professors John Azumah and Kevin Park, respectively our former Associate Dean for Advanced Professional Studies and Office of International Programs and Professor of World Christianity and Islam Director of International Programs. Pastor Park also led our Korean American Ministries (KAM) as the Interim Director of Korean American Ministries. The work of these highly esteemed immigrant faculty members is currently being divided up among non-immigrant faculty who already have full-time roles in other departments. The Administration’s decision-making evidences a deep lack of cultural competency and ethnic sensitivity.
CISA will remain open for conversations with the President's Council regarding our core proposals and conversations that will benefit the international student community and the Columbia community.