I have had the privilege of serving as the Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB) since July 2020. Although this is a relatively new role and office, I have been a part of the HDS community since 2012, when I enrolled in the MDiv program. After graduation in 2015, I returned a few years later and began serving as an Instructor in Ministry and as a Racial Justice Fellow.
I am excited to serve HDS in this role for the same reasons that brought me here as a student: the unique multireligious setting of this Divinity School. HDS offers a rich cultural environment for engagement with people across religions from diverse backgrounds, including people who do not claim a religion or believe in God. There is the potential for vibrant interactions, inside and outside of the classroom and in every department, that can transform our way of being in the world. This enables us to engage in our DIB and anti-racism and anti-oppression work at the intersection of religion and/or spirituality and social and systemic transformation.
As we aim to educate and cultivate leaders who can help create a world where religious, cultural, and racial differences do not prevent people and societies from flourishing, we can harness our religious and spiritual resources and bring them to bear on our efforts. This year, I look forward to exploring what DIB @ Divinity looks and feels like.
Guided by the principles of restorative justice and racial justice and healing, this office is a space for grounded, heart-centered practices in restorative anti-racism and anti-oppression work that facilitates a decolonized approach, rooted in love, to structural change within the institution. Over the last year, I have worked in collaboration with other HDS departments and students as chair of the Racial Justice and Healing (RJH) Committee and the Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (SCDI). We are growing in our efforts to address racism and other systems of oppression.
Last year we launched a year-long Reorientation and Common Read program to reorient ourselves around our shared HDS values of respect, dignity, mutual understanding, and trust. Together we read The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation by Dr. Fania E. Davis. We held community-wide sessions and small-group sessions that explored the themes of the book, including a closing session with Dr. Davis. We amended our initial vision of building an anti-racist and anti-oppressive HDS by adding the word “restorative” to reflect the values and practices of restorative justice. In our small-group settings, I felt the impact of students, faculty, and staff engaging with each other at a deep level with openness and vulnerability. We are cultivating intimacy and discovering points of common ground to build a strong foundation for our collective work.
This year, we are expanding our reorientation program and reframing it as the Reorientation and Common Conversation. Once again, the Common Read program will be our anchor initiative. We will read Red Nation Rising: From Bordertown Violence to Native Liberation by Nick Estes, Melanie K. Yazzie, Jennifer Nez Denetdale, and David Correia. This text will help us deepen our understanding of the roots of racism and oppression in this country and strengthen our capacity to engage in a decolonized approach to structural change within the institution and beyond.
Dismantling systems of oppression and cultivating community is hard/heart work that takes time, and we must be clear about the critical self-examination that accompanies our commitment to external structural change. To support this, our SCDI prioritized three important areas of concern: addressing western and/or white centeredness of syllabi and pedagogy; developing a DIB Care Team to offer a holistic approach to conflict/harm response through restorative practices; and exploring the meaning of diversity, inclusion, and belonging for HDS. We will continue to engage in this work as a community. We need our collective wisdom to develop our vision and priorities for strengthening diversity, inclusion, and belonging at HDS.
As I proceed in these endeavors, I will always strive to maintain a heart-centered, healing approach rooted in the ethic of love. In all that we do at HDS, we aim to create an environment where every member of the community feels like they belong. This feeling of belonging is vital to our ability to flourish as human beings in the world and at HDS. Through our collective efforts toward building a restorative anti-racist and anti-oppressive HDS, it is our hope that HDS becomes a reflection of the transformed, connected broader world we are preparing our students to co-create. I invite you to join us on our journey through Red Nation Rising and be open to your own transformation.
In community & love,
Melissa Wood Bartholomew, MDiv '15
Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging