A message from President Smith

Jesus clearly stated his mission: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). In fulfilling this mission, Jesus became the living demonstration of God’s heavenly kingdom on earth. Jesus exemplified the righteousness of God on earth: he restored the sinner, loved the unlovely, healed the sick, comforted the lonely, discouraged, and grieving, freed the prisoner, and brought justice to the poor and oppressed.

My primary purpose as president of Johnson University is to guard, guide, and advance the mission of Johnson University, which is grounded in the mission of Christ: to educate students for Christian ministries and other strategic vocations framed by the Great Commission in order to extend the kingdom of God among all nations. For 127 years this school has sought to put into practice the vision and zeal of its founder, Ashley S. Johnson, who said: “There can be but one conclusion—the one all-prevailing, over-whelming, ever-present, ever-crying obligation of the individual Christian . . . is to use his body, his time, his talent, his influence, his money, to see that the gospel is preached in its glorious provision and apostolic simplicity to this generation.” We want to hold wider the open door for those who desire above every other desire to proclaim the gospel of Christ.

We believe the programs and initiatives shared below, past and present, are an essential part of fulfilling this mission. We must intentionally listen, learn, and grow in our understanding of diversity at Johnson University and develop initiatives, build partnerships, and create programs that welcome and engage people of color. As a learning community, we also recognize that living up to this ideal is an ongoing process and that we must continue to take each step with humility and grace. We welcome your prayers as we continue to listen to the call of Christ and to remain true to the mission of our University.

Diversity Commitment

Faculty and staff gathered for a diversity seminarIn 2018, our Diversity Task Force created and shared this Diversity Commitment. It was subsequently incorporated as a key component in the University’s strategic plan.

Johnson University strives to foster an equitable, diverse, and inclusive community that promotes the success and wellbeing of women and men across races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, abilities, and ages.

Johnson University’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion is first and foremost rooted in scripture. Our mission statement—to “educate students for Christian ministries and other strategic vocations framed by the Great Commission in order to extend the kingdom of God among all nations”—derives from Jesus’s Great Commission given in Matthew 28. This mission commits us to extending God’s kingdom among and making disciples of all people. Furthermore, Johnson University is committed to reflecting the multicultural kingdom of God that includes people from every tribe, language, people, and nation, as shown in Revelation 5. Finally, as Paul describes the Christian’s ministry as one of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5, we are committed to the ministry of reconciling both humanity’s broken relationship with God and humanity’s broken relationship with others, relationships which often manifest themselves in divisions between races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, abilities, and ages. We pursue this reconciliation by embracing and embodying the God-given gifts of unity and diversity.

Johnson University’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion is also rooted in our heritage. Johnson University rose from the tradition of the Stone-Campbell Movement, which seeks to foster unity in the midst of theological diversity for the larger goal of mission as described in Jesus’s prayer for unity found in John 17. The founders of the University were dedicated to providing education for all socioeconomic groups, as evidenced by their openness to all “who desire above every other desire, to preach the Gospel of Christ.”

We have not and do not live out these ideals perfectly, but we aspire to move toward our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion in all areas of the University: students, staff, faculty, and administration.

Increasing Hospitality

How do we increase hospitality and make our spaces welcoming to all? Here are some of the values and practices we are working on as a community.

  • Genuinely seeking to understand why someone thinks/feels/believes differently than you do
  • Looking for hints of Christ in others and in yourself
  • Slowing down: paying attention to what those around you might be thinking/feeling/experiencing
  • Being kind to everyone you pass—the little things count
  • Organizing dinners that gather groups who don’t typically eat together
  • Organizing “my story” events that make space for understanding others (“Understanding makes love closer and love makes hate impossible.” ~ Linda Whitmer)
  • Organizing roundtable discussions on discrimination and exclusion focused on listening and planning steps for moving forward
  • Organizing competitions for ideas/plans to foster hospitality to leverage our community’s creative energy
  • Intentionally entering different cultural spaces to learn and become more sensitive and hospitable to those unlike you
  • Being honest and real and kind (we are all learning together)
  • Not pretending to be colorblind (we are all different and it is good to acknowledge and talk about these differences that affect everyday experience and community together)
  • Being willing to talk about culture, diversity, inclusion, race, etc.
  • Listening to people who are different than you

Learning Together

School of Education students exploring the robot toys• Cohorts of faculty and administrators have attended Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) Diversity and Inclusion Conferences and presented action steps to the JU leadership team.
• The senior leadership at JU named diversity one of the University’s core future strategies in the University strategic plan.
• Johnson received a $4,000 Project Promise Grant from the Appalachian College Association, a collaborative program to help campuses identify their strengths and weaknesses regarding diversity and inclusion. This has enabled the University’s Tennessee campus to conduct an audit and coordinate focus groups to better understand issues of diversity and inclusion on campus, and it has provided some helpful data-driven action steps for us as we strive to make Johnson a welcoming place for students and employees of color.

Institutional Expansion

The Multicultural Student Affairs Center• In 2014, Johnson University created the Urban Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of experiences for Johnson students, faculty, staff, and community members, including summer science camps for middle schoolers, scholarships, and a nine-month intensive “Urban Plunge” experience for Johnson juniors and seniors. The organization’s Urban Scholars program continues to connect Knoxville’s urban scholars from six local high schools to financial, educational, and networking resources to support them in graduating with a four-year degree; at least 75% of Johnson’s Urban Scholars are students of color, and the program has retained all but one of its 13 scholars.
• In 2014, the University also partnered with Emerald Youth to begin summer programs for young people in Knoxville, and in January of 2020 JU and Emerald Youth announced an expanded partnership to support Emerald’s Calling and Career Ministry.
• In 2016, Johnson University created Future of Hope, a nine-month cohort program for Knoxville high schoolers that includes opportunities for connection with community leaders, spiritual formation, and challenges to think theologically about living in a contemporary urban context.
• In 2018, JU created a Greater Knoxville Advisory Board to guide our community engagement initiatives. We have ongoing partnerships with Knoxville Inner City Kids Outreach, the Great Schools Partnership, the Change Center, Centro Hispano, Restoration House, Amachi, the Boys and Girls Club, and others. People of color serve on this Board, including leaders from BattleField Farms, Overcoming Believers Church, Project GRAD, and the Center for the Study of Sport and Religion at University of Tennessee.
• In 2020, the University hired Matthew Best as the director of multicultural student affairs and opened the Center for Multicultural Student Affairs. Best provides information and resources to prospective students, leads activities and programming to facilitate the spiritual and academic development of students from outside the majority culture, works with academics and student life to encourage inclusion of diverse students among the student body, and supports efforts to train faculty and staff toward the inclusion of diverse peoples in the life of the University. He has also played an integral role in marketing the University to community partners, particularly through his role as director of Future of Hope Youth Theology Initiative and through connections with local high schools. The Center for Multicultural Student Affairs provides space for International Engagement, Students Promoting Social Unity (SPSU), Urban Alliance, and Future of Hope. It has become an important social space on campus where students study, have meetings, develop community, and host small group chapels.
• JUFL created a Latino Community Liaison position; Mindy Marengo-Sardinas serves in this role to build the University’s multicultural initiatives on the Florida campus.

Student Initiatives

Students pray before a Martin Luther King Jr. walk• Students Promoting Social Unity (SPSU) is a student group that has existed for several years on Johnson’s Tennessee campus. In addition to events that help raise students’ awareness of social issues, SPSU has used its weekly meeting to facilitate workshops and discussions designed to promote cultural competency among the student body from a gospel-centered perspective.
• Students on the Florida campus created a “Latinos in Action” group.
• New to Johnson Tennessee in 2020 was the Black Student Ministries group, led by Johnson students facilitating spiritual formation in a context that is more welcoming for Black students or students from Black church backgrounds. BSM holds student-led Bible studies, prayer gatherings, and fellowship events and will eventually take students to regional student gatherings hosted by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Faculty and Staff Initiatives

• Faculty and staff developed a Diversity Task Force which has initiated or supported various campus events promoting diversity and inclusion, including professional development for faculty and staff, the addition of cultural competency training into the curriculum, a faculty-staff book club, and the expansion of diversity scholarships. One such scholarship is the Ananeoo Scholarship, which was established by recent Tennessee alumni and has raised over $8,500 in scholarships for students of color. The name for the scholarship, which comes from the Greek word for renewal, was chosen by SPSU to indicate a step of restoration.
• On the Florida campus, Mindy Marengo-Sardinas, the Latino Community Liasion, builds relationships with Latinx students, both in groups and via one-on-one mentoring. She also serves on the Chapel Leadership Team, meeting with student leaders and with the dean of the chapel to plan services for the JUFL campus. In 2020 these services included bilingual Scripture reading, worship songs, and sermons as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.
• Students, staff, and faculty on the Florida campus participated in a 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting community initiative calling attention to the need to coordinate local multiethnic ministry efforts in policing, education, benevolence, and churches. Believers from a number of churches in the city and county met daily on the JUFL Plaza for Scripture reading and prayer.
• Faculty on the Florida campus created an “Engage Orlando” student program in partnership with Global City Mission Initiative, with a focus on evangelism and relationships via a house church model.
• In 2020, Johnson University Florida hosted the Mosaic Roundtable, a conversation on race, culture, and the church.
• Professors, students, and staff from JUFL collaborated with Florida Church Partners and Nexus in a multicultural church plant that will meet on the Florida campus.

Biblical/Theological Perspectives on Multiculturalism