“Mom, I wish I looked like you.”

Whitney Johnson, BYU’s associate athletic director, recalls saying this to her white mother after experiencing bullying as the daughter of a Black father. In remarks during Black History Month at Brigham Young University, “Connected to Each Other Through the Family of God,” Johnson shared the following turning point in her journey.

“It wasn’t until I fully understood my identity as a daughter of God that I could begin to comprehend what it meant for me to be Black.”

Campuses like BYU have been working for years to craft diversity initiatives aligned with religious values and teachings. Now that conventional DEI initiatives have been subject to heightened scrutiny across the nation, diversity innovations at faith-based schools merit additional examination.

To support this ongoing conversation, the Deseret News analyzed the websites of the diversity offices at the largest faith-based colleges and universities in America (housed in offices of “multicultural affairs” or “intercultural engagement” or “community belonging” or “diversity, equity and inclusion”). In addition to Brigham Young University, Deseret News examined the diversity language employed by the 10 largest evangelical universities, including Liberty, Baylor and Pepperdine, and the 10 largest Catholic universities, including Georgetown, DePaul and Notre Dame.

Are there unique ways these schools are talking about diversity compared with secular campuses? The following seven patterns stood out across these 25 schools’ diversity websites, presented here as a contribution to the ongoing national conversation about innovating DEI initiatives in a positive direction.

An obelisk stands in front of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. | Richard Vogel

1. A common identity of intrinsic worth, value and dignity

As a Catholic university, St. John’s describes its commitment “to ensure that we welcome and celebrate the intrinsic worth of all members of our community.”

“Our faith cherishes the sacred dignity of every human being,” Pepperdine states. “As a Catholic, Jesuit university, Marquette recognizes and cherishes the dignity of each individual regardless of age, culture, faith, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, language, disability or social class,” the university states — further describing their intent to promote “the utmost reverence” for students’ “human dignity.”

“Our values call on us to continue to treat each other with respect, understanding and dignity,” states Georgetown, likewise pointing to inspiration from “Catholic and Jesuit principles of respect for the dignity of all.” Dayton also points in its diversity encouragement to “Catholic teaching about the human dignity of every person,” such as “Society as a whole must respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person’s life.”

Dayton goes further in emphasizing its “conviction that every person has innate dignity because all people are made in the image and likeness of God.” Abilene Christian likewise aspires to foster a “culture that celebrates every individual as created uniquely in God’s image.”

“Our identity is based on this understanding,” the school states, “and our relationship with others centers around the image of God present in each of us, giving all equal worth, dignity and belovedness.”

“We prize the uniqueness of all persons as God’s creatures,” Notre Dame states, based on religious teachings about a society “in which all persons possess inherent dignity as children of God.”

“We believe that all people, without exception, bear the image of God and have been designed to reflect His love and creativity,” Grand Canyon University states. BYU likewise declares, “We are united by our common primary identity as children of God.”

BYU football fans and Notre Dame fans check out the stadium and surrounding campus and College Football Hall of Fame, Friday, Oct. 19, 2012. | Scott G Winterton

2. An appreciation for the rich diversity of creation

Baylor aspires to develop students who better understand “the complex diversity of God’s creation.” Abilene Christian expresses “appreciation for the differences expressed in each of us by God’s intentional design.”

Azusa Pacific declares that “scripture reveals the Kingdom of God as multinational, multigenerational, multiethnic, and multilingual,” citing text from Revelation 7 — ”After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

“Jesus sought out and welcomed all people into the Kingdom of God,” Notre Dame states, “the gentile as well as the Jew, women as well as men, the poor as well as the wealthy, the slave as well as the free, the infirm as well as the healthy.”

California Baptist University encourages students, faculty and staff to be “world Christians who recognize, celebrate, and draw upon the wealth of multicultural and multiethnic diversity,” while being “thankful for the blessings that these God-given differences can bring in this life and in eternity.”

Many schools likewise emphasized the value of students preparing for something like “lives of purpose, service, and leadership in a pluralistic society” (Pepperdine), for “citizenship in complex global communities” (High Point) and to be “trained champions for Christ, ready for their calling” (Liberty).

“Working to understand and respect that which makes each of us unique is an essential part of a college education and part of our Jesuit mission,” Fordham states. “As a Christ-centered community,” Azusa Pacific states the school “aspires to elevate diversity, equity, and inclusion” as what they call “Kingdom distinctives.”

Not all Christian schools were equally eager to demonstrate diversity bona fides. Although celebrating its founders’ wish “to furnish all persons who wish, irrespective of nation, color, or sex, a literary, scientific, [and] theological education,” Hillsdale College raises caution about “succumbing to the dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so-called ‘social justice’ and ‘multicultural diversity,’” which the school says “judges individuals not as individuals, but as members of a group and which pits one group against other competing groups in divisive power struggles.”

“We do diversity biblically,” Liberty qualifies, emphasizing the fostering of “an inclusive environment that represents the Body of Christ.”

A cross erected on Candlers Mountain overlooks Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Tuesday, April 21, 2015. | Steve Helber

3. The educational value of different perspectives

Many schools underscore the centrality of the “search for truth,” which according to Pepperdine, requires a critical thinking “characterized by the ability to empathetically imagine perspectives and worldviews other than our own.”

That same pursuit of truth benefits from “the convergence of viewpoints, backgrounds and ideas,” Grand Canyon states. “Therefore, we provide an environment where learners can openly discuss and debate to gain understanding.”

Liberty calls the university a “crossroads for individuals with differing points of view and life experiences,” with Boston College aspiring for “a climate where diverse perspectives can coexist and thrive.” High Point describes their university success as resting upon making space for “a multitude of opinions, ideas, and beliefs,” emphasizing that all members of their campus community “play a meaningful role in gifting our campus community with a diversity of identities, thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives.”

“We value and embrace the variety of individual characteristics, life experiences and circumstances, perspectives, talents, and gifts of each member of the community and the richness and strength they bring to our community,” BYU states. Notre Dame likewise says, “Christians have found their life together enriched by the different qualities of their many members, and they have sought to increase this richness by welcoming others who bring additional gifts, talents and backgrounds to the community.”

“Committed to the unfettered pursuit of truth under the mutually illuminating powers of human intelligence and Christian faith,” Marquette states, “we are open to all who share our mission and seek the truth about God and the world.”

“We welcome and benefit enormously from the diversity of seekers within our ranks, even as we freely choose and celebrate our own Catholic identity,” the school continues. Baylor describes itself as a university “where people of all backgrounds can come together and reason together, live together, believe together, create together, learn together, work together, and grow together.”

“Together we can sharpen our intellect, broaden our worldviews, deepen our capacity for compassion, enliven our passion for learning, and expand our ability to experience and to offer the grace and peace of Christ to each other and to the world.”

“All members of our campus community bring their own cultures, unique talents, skills, and perspectives that, combined together, are DePaul,” states the university, further describing the “unique history, experience and culture” of every student, staff and faculty, along with the “unique perspectives” they each bring as “infinitely valuable.”

4. Seeking unity amidst diversity

Grand Canyon states their community “thrives on diversity” even as they “strive to unite individuals from varied backgrounds, cultures and life journeys” as they “stand as one in Christ.”

“Solidarity demands that we strive to overcome fragmentation and separation to see the deeper unity we share with all people,” states Notre Dame. Pepperdine aspires towards “unifying God’s diverse humanity.”

“We do not simply offer an accommodating space of toleration,” Baylor clarifies. “We seek to practice reconciliation.” Samford likewise describes their campus as aspiring “to reflect God’s reconciling and healing nature through a commitment that is rooted in love and centered on Christ to cultivate and nourish our community.”

“As a university committed to the Great Commission through Christ,” California Baptist University “acknowledges, celebrates and works towards the unity of every nation, tribe, people and language.” BYU states, “We strive to create a community of belonging composed of students, faculty, and staff whose hearts are knit together in love.”

The Brigham Young University campus in Provo is pictured on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. | Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Brigham Young University further describes its “commitment to the truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ” as another unifying force on their campus — aspiring to foster “a learning environment and community of belonging that is anchored in eternal truths and the teachings of Jesus Christ and living prophets.”

Notre Dame similarly describes their “character as a community of scholarship, teaching, learning and service” as “founded upon Jesus Christ.”

“For Notre Dame, Christ is the law by which all other laws are to be judged. As a Catholic institution of higher learning, in the governance of our common life we look to the teaching of Christ.”

“As Christians,” states Liberty University, “we believe that what we have in common—our identity in Christ—frees us to celebrate what makes us different.”

5. Working to improve and reach for higher potential

”Guided by love for all members of the Pepperdine community,” the university describes working to create “fertile ground in which all Pepperdine community members know they belong and can reach the levels of spiritual, intellectual, and professional development that God has planned for them.”

Notre Dame likewise describes aspiring to build a campus community “in which all can flourish” — especially through a social context in which “we each have responsibilities to others and others have reciprocal responsibilities to us.”

St. John’s University describes aspiring for what they call “inclusive excellence” — something that Dayton and Loyola likewise ”champion” in hopes of “igniting our students’ full human potential.”

By “promoting a culture of learning, appreciation and understanding,” Marquette states their “diverse university community helps us to achieve excellence.”

“The full realization of each student’s divine potential is our central focus,” says BYU. “Our breadth of inclusiveness creates a path by which all individuals can achieve their highest potential,” states High Point. Consistently, some campus diversity offices featured titles such as the “Office of Student Success and Diversity” (Samford), and the “Office of Opportunity and Enrichment” (Liberty).

BYU football fans and Notre Dame fans check out the stadium and surrounding campus and College Football Hall of Fame, Friday, Oct. 19, 2012. | Scott G Winterton

6. Seeking greater justice in a Christian way

In addition to individual-level changes, some schools describe interest in other systemic shifts. Dayton affirms that “racism and all forms of systemic oppression are in opposition to God’s will, which requires justice and love for all people as uncompromising principles.”

“The legacies of those injustices must be exposed and dismantled,” Dayton concludes, while reassuring fellow believers, “In the midst of sin, God always calls humanity to new life. Catholic practices of examination of conscience, confession of sin, atonement, and reformation of life inform our approach. We at the University of Dayton commit ourselves to this work, hoping in God’s mercy.”

“Our students aspire to build communities that are unburdened by discrimination and oppression,” states Saint Louis University, with Samford describing a “pursuit of equity and justice for all of God’s people.”

“The social teachings of the Catholic Church promote a society founded on justice and love,” Notre Dame states. Boston College likewise describes “social justice imperatives inherent in our Jesuit, Catholic heritage.”

“With a steadfast devotion to the gospel,” California Baptist University describes their commitment “to be a campus of multicultural and multiethnic diversity” and to promote “diversity, equity, and access through Biblical justice as described in Matthew.”

Students walk on the campus of Boston College, Monday, April 29, 2024, in Boston. | Charles Krupa

7. A community of love for each other and God

Grand Canyon University describes itself as motivated by a “responsibility to fulfill the Great Commandments which, simply stated, are ‘to love God and to love our neighbor’” — with “diversity,” from their vantage point, being about “creating a space that mirrors the compassion and love embodied by Jesus.”

California Baptist calls the Great Commandment “the foundation of a multicultural, multiethnic university” — describing campus efforts to “love and serve the marginalized and vulnerable of society,” as being a way to “actually love and serve Jesus Christ.”

“We seek to embody Christ’s teachings of love and inclusivity across boundaries of racial, ethnic, gender, socio-economic, religious, and other expressions of human difference,” Baylor University states — adding that “living out the calling and mission of Christ means living within diversity.”

“We are called to live in solidarity with all people,” Notre Dame states, explaining that “We are all, in one way or another, our sister’s and brother’s keeper.”

“Because of Christ’s calling to treat others as we desire to be treated,” Notre Dame continues, “We welcome all people.” Citing Ephesians 2, the school speaks of people being “strangers and sojourners no longer.”

“We consciously create an environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth in which none are strangers and all may flourish.”

“As a Christian university,” Pepperdine University states, “we inherit the Israelites’ injunction to love the stranger. Jesus takes us even farther by embracing the stranger as our neighbor who is not only to be loved, but to be loved as ourselves. Likewise the apostle Paul declares that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ.”

One goal of Abilene Christian’s “culture of diversity and inclusion” is “always treating one another with kindness, compassion, grace and mercy.” BYU likewise aspires to create a community of belonging where “all relationships reflect devout love of God and a loving, genuine concern for the welfare of our neighbor.”