Tuesday, November 10, 2020

As part of an effort to address racial injustice, Duke Divinity School is reviewing story submissions from community members about how race and racial discrimination have impacted their lives as Divinity School students, alumni, faculty, and staff. The stories will help the school better understand the experiences of those in the community and use that understanding to make changes that foster a more just community.

The Story Listening and Gathering group, one of four working groups commissioned by Dean L. Gregory Jones in September 2020 as part of Duke Divinity School’s anti-racism action plan, is made up of Duke Divinity students, alumni, faculty, and staff, and is charged with creating story sharing platforms that recognize the vulnerability and risk assumed by those who share, and developing appropriate pathways and mechanisms for those stories to shape and inform the school’s overall anti-racism efforts.

By attending to stories of both positive and negative experiences of race, the Story Listening group seeks to honor the imago dei in each member of the Duke Divinity community and to reckon with the implications of the individual and structural sins of racism. “All human beings are created in the image of God,” says the Rev. Dr. Luke Powery, dean of Duke Chapel, associate professor of homiletics at the Divinity School, and member of the group. “Implicitly, anti-racism work affirms the dignity and worth of all human beings.”

In charting out its work, the group adapted definitions of racism along three categories—interpersonal racism, institutional racism, and structural racism—and has asked participants to use any or all of the definitions that fit their experience.

The group has worked carefully to consider the security and confidentiality of the process and to create a space in which participants would feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Of upmost importance has been participant privacy. Stories were submitted anonymously or with identifying information so that group members can follow up with participants. All submitted stories are secured behind the Duke firewall and accessed only by members of the Story Listening group.

Reviewing stories so far, group member Leah Reed, M.Div. ’21, said, “It has been difficult, heartbreaking, and angering at times to read these stories and acknowledge the ways the school has failed in the past. But I believe it also holy and worthwhile work, and I feel grateful to be invited to hold space for these stories that have been so generously offered.”

The Story Listening group received more than 60 submissions and will be reviewing stories through early December. A.J. Walton, M.Div. ‘11, senior director of cross-sector initiatives and co-facilitator of the group, said that they are incredibly grateful for students, alumni, faculty, and staff who have shared their experiences so far.

“We recognize that it’s not necessarily easy and that it requires a great deal of vulnerability, but we hope that in doing so—and with having a group that’s directly connected to concerns of current students, alumni, and serve in the local church—that the process will help the Divinity School identify areas where change is needed and move forward toward a more just future.