A message from President Smith

Our Lord Jesus Christ 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 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

In 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.

Our work so far

This is not new work for us. Over the last several years, we have taken the following steps to begin a more intentional commitment to diversity:

• 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.
• Faculty and staff developed a Diversity Task Force which has sponsored diversity training, organized a book club for faculty and staff, and developed a diversity scorecard for the institution. This scorecard revealed areas of progress as well as several areas for improvement.
• Students on the Tennessee campus formed Students Promoting Social Unity (SPSU), which works with faculty, staff, and other students to raise issues of social justice and to enact change on campus. Students on the Florida campus created a “Latinos in Action” group.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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 2014, the University partnered with Emerald Youth to begin summer programs for young people in Knoxville, and in January of this year JU and Emerald Youth announced an expanded partnership to support Emerald’s Calling and Career Ministry.
• 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 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 January, 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 launch this fall, meeting on the Florida campus.

New Initiatives

In June 2020, the campus community at both Johnson University Tennessee and Johnson University Florida participated in a service of lament and confession. In this service, we read and prayed scripture, confessed the racism that is part of our institution’s history, and repented.

We have more work to do. In light of the events in our country at this time and as part of our ongoing work around these issues, the current initiatives and next steps for diversity at Johnson University include the following:

  • Creation of a new “Director of Multicultural Student Affairs” position. Matthew Best, who serves as the director of Future of Hope, has agreed to serve in this role. In this position, he will provide information and resources to prospective students, lead activities and programming to facilitate the faith and academic development of students from outside the majority culture, work with academics and student life to establish an effective educational program to encourage inclusion of diverse students among the student body,  and support efforts to train faculty and staff toward the inclusion of diverse peoples in the life of the University.
  • An alumni-driven establishment of the Ananeoo Scholarship for students of color. Ananeoo is the Greek word for “renewal” (Ephesians 4) and was suggested by our Students Promoting Social Unity group to indicate a step of restoration for our campus community.
  • Receipt of a grant from the Appalachian College Association to conduct a diversity audit of all dimensions of our campuses to enable us to more effectively assess our efforts at making Johnson a welcoming place for students of color and to guide our professional development for faculty and staff in this area. We began this work in January and will conclude it in late 2020.