Episcopal Divinity School Case Study

Episcopal Diversity School
Case: Preparing the Ground – Institutional Change
What has been most effective at Episcopal Divinity School (EDS), Cambridge, MA, in increasing the number of faculty of color and changing the environment of the school to be more welcoming of diversity has been the use of a multipronged approach that addresses all aspects of institutional life.
Preparing the Ground (1988 – 1995)
Changing the Face of the Faculty and Programs
In 1974, EDS was formed from the merger of Episcopal Theological Seminary, Cambridge, and Philadelphia Divinity School. The merger both combined the schools’ commitments to reform with respect to race and gender, and also created a larger-than-needed, overwhelmingly white male faculty entitled to stay on until retirement (which occurred primarily in the late ‘80s–early ‘90s). Nonetheless the school actively sought both minority men and women and white women faculty. By 1986 there was a sufficient core of feminist-identified faculty, students, and trustees that the school instituted a Feminist Liberation Theologies study area, with concentrations for the D.Min. and M.A. degrees, and a specialization within the M.Div. degree. The number of courses and students with feminist concerns meant the development of a different pedagogy and debates over what a seminary student must learn. About 1990, the school also began its Anglican, Global, and Ecumenical Studies area, further diversifying its pedagogy and curriculum.In 1988, the Board of Trustees approved as part of the school’s Strategic Plan a goal “to move toward faculty composition of at least 50% women and 33% racial/ethnic persons” (1988 Strategic Plan, p. 18). At that time the faculty of seventeen consisted of eleven white men, one African American man, four white women, and one African American woman. By 1994-95, it was clear that
the school had reached approximately one-half women faculty, but had made little progress toward achieving one-third minority faculty. In spite of deliberate and successful attempts to hire minority faculty, other minority faculty left or retired so there was little net increase.
It was clear that more was needed if EDS was to achieve one-third racial minority faculty.

Active Work to Transform EDS (1995 – PRESENT)
The Change Team and the Anti-racism Facilitation Group
In spring 1995, the faculty resolved that the President/ Dean should appoint a “change team” and “charge it to do a needs assessment of anti-racism work at EDS, engage the entire EDS community in a public debate, …and draft a comprehensive three-year plan for change.” In August 1995, the President/Dean appointed a nine-member committee consisting of two faculty, three staff, two trustees, and two students and charged them “to create a plan aimed at enabling EDS to become a more racially diverse community; to establish…goals for all areas of the school’s life.” In spring 1997, the Change Team presented its institutional audit and its two-to-three year plan for anti-racism, diversity, and multicultural change at EDS, with provisions for its successor group, the Anti-Racism Facilitation Group. The school is still operating within this plan, addressing original and revised needs.

As of spring 2002, much change has occurred as a result
of the work of the Change Team and other initiatives. For the first few years of the process, there was considerable tension and conflict among faculty, staff, and students, including a few personnel changes. The process has also involved extensive budgetary commitment. The Change Team was charged to identify and retain a consultant. EDS hired VISIONS, Inc., Dr. Valerie Batts, Executive Director.

VISIONS worked with the Change Team and with various segments of the school. They have worked with faculty, faculty of color and white faculty separately, the faculty search committee, senior administrators, staff, students, and various groups of students. They continue to work regularly with certain student groups (student government, chapel staff, senior student leaders of conferences), and with other groups as needed. For example, this fall they facilitated a series of sessions for the faculty on process in teaching anti-racism and culturally sensitive material. This ongoing training has given the school tools, cooperative skills, and a shared language.

In addition to the in-school training and facilitating, VISIONS, Inc. offers intensive four-day workshops “Changing Racism: A Personal Approach to Multiculturalism” at both the beginning and more advanced levels. All the regular faculty and many of the staff have taken the VISIONS I training; about half the faculty have also had the VISIONS II and/or other advanced training from VISIONS. We also offer a somewhat shortened version as a course for students, initially taught by VISIONS staff, now taught by our own faculty. This “VISIONS training” has been a major investment of time and money; we believe it has contributed substantially to the changes that have occurred at EDS and to the ability of the community to work cooperatively together.

“In spite of deliberate and successful attempts to hire minority faculty, other minority faculty left or retired so there was little net increase. It was clear that more was needed if EDS was to achieve one-third racial minority faculty.”

Diversity of Faculty
As of 2002,we have achieved the goal set out in 1988. Of the fifteen regular faculty, there are seven men and eight women, ten white faculty (five men, five women, including an Australian and a German) and five faculty of color (two African Americans, one Asian American, one South Indian, and one Chinese). Ten of the faculty have been hired since 1993, and care has been taken to ensure that new faculty shared the school’s commitment to anti-racism and feminism. Furthermore, all faculty position announcements now indicate that applicants should have multicultural, diversity, and anti-racism skills within their areas of academic expertise. Although there is far greater cultural and racial diversity of the faculty now than in 1988, the faculty is far more collegial and united around the school’s mission today.Diversity of Staff
The staff is also considerably more diverse with a Native American President/Dean (the first person of color in that office) and an African American Dean of Students. Progress has been made, albeit slowly, in diversifying the staff at all levels.

Pedagogy and Curriculum Even prior to 1995, the school offered considerable opportunities for anti- racist, multicultural, and feminist learning. At that time, however, students could avoid such courses if they wished. This is no longer possible. (1) In fall 1996, the faculty initiated the “Foundations Course” required of all master’s students in their first semester. The course description reads in part, “Reflecting on vocation both as personal and social call to transformation, participants… primarily focus on racism as one of the major manifestations of oppression facing U.S. society and the church today and its connections to other forms of injustice. In reflection and action students are encouraged to engage their own context(s) addressing the ways their own social location shapes their theological praxis in the struggle for justice in the church and beyond” (Catalog, p. 21). (This innovation was a radical departure for EDS, because it was our first and remains our only required course.) As it has developed and we have learned more about teaching it, the course is now taught by a rotating team of three regular faculty members plus Dr. Batts of VISIONS, Inc. as adjunct faculty. (2) In fall 1997, we added the requirement that students take additional academic work from Two-Thirds World and/or U.S. Racial/Ethnic perspectives.2 (3) Finally, in spring 1998, the faculty applied its Anti-Racist Commitment to all courses: “All courses are expected to support EDS’s anti-racist commitment in a number of areas, for example, in course content, pedagogy, syllabi, illustrations, classroom dynamics, and bibliography” (Catalog, p. 31). A question on multicultural and anti-racist learning is included in student course evaluations; the matter is included in all faculty evaluations.

Students and Addmissions
Questions on anti-racist and multicultural experience are included on the admissions forms. Extensive efforts and additional financial aid resources have gone into recruiting minority students—with limited success. More successful has 
been our work to strengthen white students’ anti-racist commitments and to give them more skills to work effectively in this area in whatever environment they find themselves serving.
The FutureMuch progress has been made; much still needs to be done. The place is indeed transformed. We are much more hospitable to diversity and committed to anti-racism and multiculturalism. These are realities here. Yet we remain in ethos a predominantly white seminary, in a predominantly white church and society.


  1. For an indication of the Visions approach, see Valerie Batts, Modern Racism: New Melody for the Same Old Tunes, Episcopal Divinity School Occasional Papers, No. 2, May 1998.
  2. Two additional courses for M.Div. students; one additional course for M.A. students.

~ Joanna Dewey and Joan M. Martin Episcopal Divinity School