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The Yale Divinity School has begun increasing the diversity of its curricula and faculty through two racial and ethnic studies–focused academic programs as part of a $50 million faculty-diversity initiative started in 2015.

According to Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling, one of the two programs, which launched this academic year, explores Latino and Latin American Christianity, and the other, expected to begin next year, will cover black church studies. The University-wide faculty-diversity initiative allowed the Divinity School to apply for funding from the University to hire new faculty, he added, including seven faculty appointments made in April 2016 to lead the programs. The majority of those seven new appointments are from backgrounds historically underrepresented in theological studies.

“The provost’s and president’s diversity initiative was a great help to the Divinity School because it allowed us to be more aggressive in hiring diverse faculty members that we might have been able to otherwise,” Sterling said.

According to Sterling, the Divinity School has traditionally offered a master’s degree in black religion in the African diaspora, and the addition of the black church studies program is meant to accommodate increased faculty and student interest in black church ministry.

William Mathis, director of the black church studies program, said students in the program will acquire the theological knowledge and practical skills necessary for black church ministry. He added that students pursuing the certificate will also have the opportunity to attend program-specific colloquia and to receive supervised mentorship from local clergymen.

“There has definitely been an increase in interest and concern about the black church at the Divinity School,” Mathis said. “I think this program is necessary because it’s important that those who strive to be well-informed and educated intellectual scholars in the study of religion must be versed in the uniqueness and nuances of the black church.”

The Latino and Latin American Christianity program, which launched in the fall of 2017, has also helped boost diversity in academics and faculty at the Divinity School, according to Sterling. The program is part of the master’s degree program, which is a two-year curriculum that allows students to pursue in-depth studies in a specific theological field.

Benjamin Valentin, professor of Latino Christianity and a developer of the program, said that he has been “pleasantly surprised” by the number of non-Latino students who have expressed interested in his classes.

“I’m really glad to see that this program isn’t getting siloed, that there’s something in this program for people beyond one specific ethnic group,” he said. “A program like this could help educate people on who Latin-Americans are, who Latinos and Latinas are, to unmask some of the damaging stereotypes that interfere with good, thorough debate on immigration and other matters.”

Still, Valentin explained that it has been difficult to promote the program to the rest of the University and beyond, saying that the degree has received only four applications so far.

He also pointed out the importance of the University-wide faculty diversity initiative and of the Divinity School’s own push to diversify academic curricula and faculty members.

“Certainly, the hope is that we go beyond having programs that deal with matters regarding diversity and become a school that embodies diversity through its personnel and faculty,” he said.

Erendira Jimenez-Pike DIV ’19, coordinator of the Divinity School’s Latino student association, La Comunidad, said she has appreciated the chance to take classes with diverse faculty members, including a Latino theology class in which her “own identity wasn’t a minority.” Still, she expressed concern about the diversity of the student body, saying that she and other students of color still do not feel fully represented.

According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, African-Americans made up 6 percent of full-time faculty at degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States in the fall of 2015. Hispanics made up 4 percent, and Asians and Pacific Islanders made up 10 percent.

Amber Hu | amber.hu@yale.edu