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President Bahls on justice and change

Following is a transcript from the message from Augustana President Steve Bahls in the June 2020 Augustana Magazine.

Greetings, Augustana community.

As you can see, this issue of Augustana magazine is an online issue. I'm excited about the opportunity to visit with you more personally about the college's commitment to racial justice and diversity, equity and inclusion.

We've been talking a lot about racial justice these days, given the events in our nation and in our world. I thought I'd give you a little background about why I am so passionate about using my position as president of Augustana College to facilitate discussions of racial justice and social change.

I remember the first deep conversation I had about racial justice. It was during the civil rights movement in the 60s and I was a teenager growing up in Des Moines, Iowa.

The conversation took place during Sunday school and I remember the Sunday school teacher, who I admired, who was a lawyer, talked about our obligations as Christians to view the civil rights movement through the eyes of the prophet, Micah; That we should do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Do justice by calling out injustice, love mercy not by pitying people, but giving people a helping hand and being humble about it by recognizing that it's not about us, but it is about a better society.

When I came to Augustana College 18 years ago, I talked much about the need to increase our diversity at Augustana College. I remember student Lydia Duran coming into my office and saying that she appreciated my commitment to justice and my commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, but she thought the plans were pretty general.

She said, “What are your plans?” and I could tell I didn't impress her. She came back two weeks later, connected me with the National Hispanic Institute and their resources, and that was the beginning of our first, serious diversity, equity and inclusion plans.

In 2016, students came to me and indicated that Augustana needed to do better with respect to including students of color in the life of Augustana College. They said that we had done a lot, but not enough.

I was a little defensive at first, but I decided to hold listening sessions and what I learned from the students was incredible, and that was that the experiences at Augustana College among different groups of students were not equal experiences.

From that we developed a diversity, equity and inclusion plan; we hired Dr. Monica Smith, an expert in diversity, equity and inclusion; and we continued to refine our efforts to ensure that all students are not only welcome at Augustana College, but included at Augustana College.

And again, earlier this year, I was reminded by students of the importance of the cabinet to take leadership at every level at Augustana College and be visible in ensuring that we are inclusive of all.

But what I must tell you is that I've been impressed with the passion of our students. I've been impressed with how they speak about racial justice and their desire to do something to make a difference and to capture the moment.

I believe that we all as members of the Augustana community can work together, listen to our students, and listen to each other and make this a better world.

 Let me tell you about a recent conversation I had with Dr. Devona Williams. Dr. Williams served as a consultant for Augustana College as we looked at board effectiveness. She and I were having a video coffee and I was talking about the opportunities that Augustana College had to advance racial justice. She stopped me and she said, “Steve, I appreciate your passion, but don't view this as an opportunity. We need to view this as an obligation.”

These indeed are historic times. The passion of all of our students is at historical levels. Let's work together to pursue this obligation at this important time to create a more just Augustana, a more just Quad Cities in a more just world.

I know we can do it because doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God is at the core of Augustana College. We can do it because we are Augustana. We are Augustana strong.

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