Every day, students at Savanna High School in Orange County, CA see the school mascot—a Confederate soldier nicknamed “Johnny Rebel”—painted on the walls, even though their school is made up of mostly kids of color. A group of primarily African American students recently spoke out against the mascot and asked for it to be changed. One alum responded with, “Not once did any of us look at Johnny Rebel as a racist symbol.” On Monday, the school’s board of trustees voted to remove the imagery of the soldier but said that Savannah High School will still be the “home of the Rebels”—in part because 56% of students favored re-branding over changing the Rebel name, but also because the name change would cost upwards of $50,000. Opponents of the mascot are disappointed by the compromise, but acknowledge that it’s a good first step away from a “dated and offensive” symbol of racism.
Christian colleges face particular challenges when it comes to addressing diversity, according to Karen A. Longman, editor of Diversity Matters: Race, Ethnicity, and the Future of Christian Higher Education. In an interview, she explains that many Christian colleges struggle with reconciling their emphasis on faith-based social justice with a primarily “white evangelical approach to [religious programming],” such as the “structure of the service, style of the worship, which songs or hymns are sung, the race and ethnicity of the speakers, and how the Bible is preached or taught.” In order to recruit and retain Black and Latino students, Longman recommends that Christian colleges promote resources that “support the social, cultural and faith needs of students,” especially first-generation and bilingual students. When it comes to faculty diversity, Longman points out that some Christian colleges retain faculty of color through strategic hiring processes, networking and advancement opportunities, and mentoring and affinity groups.
Alumni of the CBS Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase recently spoke out about their negative experiences with the program’s directors, Fern Orenstein and Rick Najera. Alumni report that Orenstein constantly body-shamed participants and even bragged about “starting eating disorders”, and Najera just resigned in light of a sexual harassment investigation. Both directors repeatedly told participants to play up the tropes viewers would associate with them (Nicole Byer’s piece “Be Blacker” seems to be inspired by her experience in the program). A 2015 alumnus recalls that on day one, Najera said, “Looking around, you may have noticed there are many white male writers. You may be asking yourself, why are they a part of the diversity showcase?” Orenstein followed with, “We just want to make sure the show will be funny.” One alumnus describes what bothered her most about the program: “It was reinforcing [stereotypes] instead of showcasing that we can do more. That was heartbreaking, because this is the network that appeals to most of Middle America.”