By Susan Naslund, from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
Less than 60 years ago clergywomen received full rights in The United Methodist Church. While women now fill more seats than men in United Methodist seminaries, the number of women of color in those chairs is still small.
The lack of women of color faculty at United Methodist seminaries and theological schools is even more apparent. “There were no women of color professors in my seminary education,” said Dr. Rosetta Ross, professor of Religion at Spelman College and chair of the Women of Color Mentoring Committee.
Sixty-five gathered in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the United Methodist Women of Color Scholars scholarship and mentoring program, the only denominationally sponsored program of its kind, November 21, 2014, in San Diego, California. Attendees included former graduates, mentors and current scholars of the program along with presidents, academic deans and other administrators from seminaries and schools of theology.
At the banquet, five current scholarship recipients expressed gratitude for not only the financial aid they have received, but also for the mentorship that has meant so much to them. “Time with my mentor is precious because it is hard to conceptualize the history of the struggle, vision and hope [for women of color scholars] that has gone on for so long. I can’t go it alone,” said Amy R. Barbour, scholar at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.
“The mentorship is a safe holding environment for me,” added June Hee Yoon, scholar at Drew University, The Theological School.
The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry created the Woman of Color Scholars program in 1989 to address the absence of women of color faculty in theological education in the United States by providing scholarships and mentoring to women pursuing higher theological education. There are now 39 graduate scholars who teach in seminaries and theological schools in the U.S., Africa, Korea and Vietnam.
Also recognized at the banquet was Angella Current-Felder, former executive director of GBHEM’s Office of Loans and Scholarships who was instrumental in creating and facilitating the Women of Color Scholars program. “Making a space for the voices of women of color has always been an important issue for me,” said Current-Felder.
The GBHEM Office of Loans and Scholarships continues to administer and facilitate this program through the application, awarding, and mentoring process. Current executive director, Allyson Collinsworth said, “We continue to see some of the brightest scholars in the denomination take part of the program and thrive from the collective support from the church, mentors, and each other that makes them aware they are not alone in their journey. The Women of Color Scholars Program is invested in these women’s successful futures in the academy on behalf of The United Methodist Church.”
Papers were prepared and presented in a panel format at the reception addressing the significance of contributions by women of color scholars to the academy and religious communities. Panel moderator Bishop Grant Hagiya, resident bishop of the Greater Northwest Area, said, “The 39 graduates are making a systemic difference in theological education as well as in the church,” and agreed that the mentor program is the key to the success of the graduates.
“The goal is to have one Woman of Color Scholar at each of our 13 seminaries, but we are not quite there yet,” Hagiya said.
Drs. Dianne Stewart, Namsoon Kang, and Cristian De La Rosa wrote the papers. Following the readings, respondent Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman remarked upon the issues presented in the work.
To give to the Women of Color Scholars Endowment fund, visit www.gbhem.org/wocdonate, or mail a gift to GBHEM Office of Loans and Scholarships, Women of Color Scholars Fund, P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007. Financial assistance will help award, mentor and support more United Methodist Women of Color Scholars.
Naslund is staff reporter, Office of Communications, California-Pacific Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Left to right, scholars of the program Hyun Hui Kim, Michele Watkins Branch, Amy Barbour, Elyse Minson, Eun Joo Park, and June Hee Yoon.