By the Rev. Kyle Oliver
The week before Election Week was Reading Week in the schools of the Graduate Theological Union, a time when classes press pause and students can catch up on coursework. For CDSP, it was also a chance to revisit formation opportunities the coronavirus pandemic forced to be rescheduled.
Tuesday’s session with Dr. Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, was eighteen months in the making, according to The Rev. Andrew Hybl ’12, dean of students.
“After we had to cancel her in-person visit in the spring, Dr. Meeks reached out to me,” Hybl said. “‘We still need to do this work!’ she told me. We’re so grateful she was willing to be with us in this format.”
Meeks interwove her teaching with historical, social, and religious analysis, plus personal wisdom from a lifetime of leadership with people who have been marginalized. The retired Clara Carter Acree Distinguished Professor of Socio-Cultural Studies from Wesleyan College, Meeks is author, co-author, or editor of eight books, including the best-selling Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America.
“It felt like she was peeling back the layers of an onion,” Hybl said. “When we got to the center, we had a shared foundation for small-group discussion.”
Now is the time for facing the realities of racism, Meeks told students. She said the Church has to tell the truth and repent of its role in creating the nightmare of racist oppression in the U.S.
Thursday’s session focused on skill-building for naming and addressing microaggressions. It was led by Mountaintop Coaching and Consulting, founded by Bay Area community organizer and CDSP alum the Rev. Laura Eberly ’20.
“Ready yourself to stand in the fire,” co-facilitator Oshalla Marcus told participants. “Prepare to view it as a gift of transformation.”
The workshop provided models for providing feedback and somatic grounding practices to decrease defensiveness and anxiety about naming and changing harmful behavior.
“As current and future leaders of congregations and the Church, CDSP students must develop the skills necessary to respond confidently and compassionately to incidents of bias in their communities, whether as witnesses, victims, or perpetrators of harm,” Eberly said.
Mountaintop is continuing to work with the Diversity Committee and will support CDSP students throughout the school year.