Welcome & Overview | History | Mission & Vision
Goals & Objectives | Accomplishments | Accessibility
Sustainability | International Students | Interreligious Engagement
Union Theological Seminary is absolute in its commitment to be an antiracist, anti-oppressive, social justice institution. To this end, The Justice, Equity, and Inclusion (JEI) Committee are committed to the unrelenting work of addressing the interpersonal, institutional, and structural dynamics that perpetuate racism and all forms of oppression.
The JEI Committee is an official seminary committee that operates alongside other institutional committees. However, the work of the JEI Committee falls most actively under Union’s Center for Community Engagement & Social Justice. The JEI Committee works alongside the President in the work of making Union a more just institution.
Black Students on the frontlines of Justice Equity and Inclusion
Black students at Union Theological Seminary have been instrumental in advancing racial justice, both on campus and in the wider community. They have organized teach-ins and events to help raise awareness of structural racism, led protests against police violence, helped create an anti-oppression framework for the seminary’s curriculum, and worked with local organizations to promote social change. Additionally, they have successfully advocated for increased faculty diversity, expanded resources dedicated to researching race relations & religion and engaged with interfaith partners which has enabled further dialogue & understanding around social justice issues within their own faith tradition.
On May 20, 2020, Black faculty, students, and staff convened a virtual town hall to hear the experiences and concerns of Black students while at Union. Afterward, the Black Caucuses jointly submitted formal recommendations to the seminary’s administration. One of the recommendations was for ongoing antiracist and unconscious bias training. A small and diverse committee of faculty, staff, and students interviewed potential consultants during the 2021-2022 academic year. Majors Leadership Group was selected, and in the Fall of 2021 the JEI initiative was formally launched.
Standing on a Rich Legacy of Justice, Equity, and Inclusion
Union Theological Seminary has played a leading role in advocating for social justice since its founding over 175 years ago. It was the first seminary to grant degrees to women and students of all races, creeds, and backgrounds. The school has educated influential leaders such as Dorothy Day, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, theologian Paul Tillich and many more who have gone on to become advocates for social justice around the globe. In addition to educating these great minds, Union continues their commitment today through programming like the Center for Engaged Compassion which emphasizes compassionate action towards those suffering from poverty or oppression locally and globally.
Union Theological Seminary is deeply committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, staff, and visitors. They strive to provide a safe learning space free of discrimination, prejudice or exclusion. This commitment extends to their curriculum which features courses in areas such as Restorative Justice Practices, Women’s Studies & Research, Intercultural Communication & Racial Justice Education and more.
Union has had a longstanding commitment to justice and equity and honors all our students, alums, faculty, staff, and board members who have contributed to advancing justice and equity and Union since its founding.
In the 1960s, prompted by students, Union was one of the first institutions of higher education to make reparations. The Union board pledged $100,000 and indicated a willingness to invest an additional million in Black causes. Over the course of the next year, Dean Lawrence Jones and the Black steering committee channeled the funds to a variety of approved causes, including directly to the Black Economic Development Conference (NBEDC) at Riverside Church and to scholarships for Black students.
Additionally, in 2021, Union’s President Serene Jones acknowledged Thanksgiving to be a National Day of Mourning as observed by some Indigenous communities. In 2022, under the leadership of President Jones, Union through a collaborative process with Indigenous community leaders and alums, crafted a land acknowledgement which is placed in the stairway entrance to James Chapel and is also observed at all Union events. That year, Union also made a financial gift to the Sweetwater Cultural Center and created scholarships for the Lenape community at Union.
Guided by our traditions of ethics and justice, our mission is to hold Union Theological Seminary accountable to its commitment to justice, equity and inclusion, not just in word or speech, but in truth and action. By holding up the mirror to our institutional values, truths, and practices, we aspire to transform Union into a place where each and every individual in our community is fully seen, supported and whole.
Grounded in radical faith and justice, our vision is for Union to be a diverse and inclusive institution where all people (regardless of race; ethnicity; national or geographic origin; religious, philosophical, or political beliefs; gender identity; sexual orientation; age; ability; family structure, socioeconomic status, life experience or any other marginalized group with which they identify, are equipped with the knowledge, support and tools to thrive academically, professionally, personally, and spiritually; as we move toward the embodiment of a beloved community.
JEI Goals and Objectives
As a diverse group representing various groups of Union’s community, the JEI Committee was created to be the voice of institutional accountability and self-reflection, as it relates to antiracism and oppression in all forms at Union. Our work is centered on the following objectives:
- Identifying and addressing barriers that hinder Union’s commitment to antiracism and oppression; and providing guidance and support with strategies that remove these barriers.
- Holding grace-space for institutional reflection, accountability, growth, and healing, as it relates to the dismantling of racism and all forms of oppression. Central to this objective will be engaging the principles of restorative justice: a) repairing harm; b) strengthening relationships and understanding through empathy; and c) rebuilding trust.
- Providing ongoing critical assessment of Union’s effectiveness in addressing issues associated with justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion and overcoming any barriers.
Accomplishments of the JEI Committee
The JEI committee led by Dr. Michelle Majors engaged in surveys and listening sessions with the entire Union community including faculty, staff, and students. Some of the accomplishments and outputs of the committee include the following:
JEI is an official committee of Union: While the JEI committee was formed in 2020, in 2022, it became an official committee of Union Theological Seminary and now is situated alongside other institutional committees that report to the President and Board. This accomplishment was particularly significant as it demonstrates Union’s commitment to advancing and uplifting anti-racism, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in all aspects of the institution’s work.
Advancing Disability Justice & Accessibility
One of the learnings of the JEI committee from listening sessions and surveys was the need for a clear process related to requesting disability accommodations. We also learned that our community would benefit from a deeper understanding of ableism, disability justice, and accessibility. As part of our commitment, we initiated the following:
- Disability justice and theology course – launched Summer 2023
- A new updated policy for disability services reviewed by members of the Disability Justice Caucus, faculty members, administrative staff, and student representatives on the Academic Affairs Committee. It was approved unanimously and put into effect immediately.
- First formal information session on accommodations for the incoming class was hosted during Orientation in August 2022 and January 2023.These sessions will continue to be hosted at all future Orientation sessions.
- Returning students have since August 2022 and will continue to receive via email information on disability justice, accommodations, and accessibility.
The Union community was especially focused on ensuring the sustainability of JEI initiatives and so the committee is engaged in these long-term efforts:
- Annual JEI Forum/Update: Every year the JEI committee hosts a community update to share information and also successes of the JEI initiatives on campus.
- JEI Orientation for incoming students: Every year, as part of Orientation, students are introduced to not only Union’s commitment to JEI initiatives but also our ongoing work and how it applies to student life on campus.
- JEIC Handbook completed: The JEI Handbook is a guide for the Union community to learn more about the JEI committee, our work and how to be engaged with us in this work.
- JEIC is an official committee
- Faculty, staff and student Liaison model: The JEI committee includes faculty, staff and student liaisons who report back and collect input regularly from their stakeholder groups.
- Website: The Union community was also focused on ensuring a consistent and transparent way to communicate the initiatives and successes of the JEI committee and to that end created a localized and consistent way to ensure all JEI related information is available and accessible to all.
Legal Help for International students
As we learned through surveys and listening sessions, International students often struggle with filing taxes. Union’s Dean of Student Affairs hired a tax company who will do annual Zoom sessions for International students with guidance on how to file taxes, and the company also offers a discount if students engage the company to do their taxes. Launched February of 2023.
Another concern that was identified was the need for legal expertise on issues of immigration. Union’s Dean of Student Affairs has engaged an immigration attorney who can advise students on issues as they arise. To request legal assistance, students must reach out to the Dean of Student Affairs who will liaise with the attorney on behalf of students.
Advancing Interreligious Engagement, Inclusion and Belonging for All
Since 2013, Union has had a strong focus on Interreligious Engagement. One of the issues that student elevated to the JEI committee was ensuring that this focus is visible on campus beyond just the classroom.
- Union has long hosted daily chapel services. To advance inclusion and belonging, Union’s Dean of Chapel led the effort to designate Thursdays for interreligious services.
- Additionally, at the same time, we transitioned to calling chapel, “service(s)” to be more inclusive of all faith.
- Union has long observed institutional time off for Christian Holy week including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Monday. In the 2022-23 academic year, the faculty voted to transition away from solely observing Christian holidays in an effort to be more inclusive of other faith traditions represented on our campus.