Southern Adventist University Halts Plans to Hire VP of Diversity

In February 2018, Southern Adventist University announced the immediate creation of a Vice President of Diversity position. However, due to budget constraints, President David Smith says the fulfillment of that position is now on hold.

When a racist incident occurred at Southern’s annual Black Christian Union (BCU) Night on February 3, 2018, President Smith addressed the Southern community’s questions and concerns via email and video message on February 13, apologizing for the racist history of the university.

Former Student Association President Phillip Warfield outlined some of this history in his recent blog post, including yearbook photos from the 1940s-50s that show the confederate flag hanging in the school gym, and white students posing in Blackface. And in 2016, Jared Wright reported for Spectrum on another BCU incident overshadowed by racism.

Several initiatives to address issues of current and systemic racism were announced in Smith’s February 2018 video message, including the new VP role. “I pledge that we will improve the representation of our diverse student body at the administrative level starting immediately with the creation of a vice president for diversity position,” stated Smith.

Over the next several months, Southern’s Diversity Committee developed a job description, advertised it, and began interviewing applicants. The final three candidates were selected. However, after enrollment numbers for the 2018-19 school year were less than expected, a hiring freeze halted the process.

In a statement to the campus community, President Smith explained that,

“At the time of my initial announcement, Southern was experiencing enrollment growth. However, this year’s enrollment has not continued that growth trajectory. As a result, I have decided not to fill any new positions in order to preserve the financial health of the institution. Filling no new positions includes pausing our search for a new vice president. We pray that by God’s grace, we will be able to resume that hiring process in the future.”

He continued, “I am sorry I have been unable to fully keep this promise at this time. I assure you that I am still highly committed to implementing all of the efforts that this new position was intended to undertake. With that in mind, I am establishing two senior advisers whose positions will be funded for two years by generous gifts from two donors.”

The faculty members chosen for these senior adviser roles were Stephanie Guster, MSW, a professor in the School of Social Work, and Alan Parker, DTh, a professor in the School of Religion. Guster is senior adviser for “diversity with an emphasis on race,” and Parker is senior adviser with an “emphasis on student sexual activity.” The advisers operate out of the President’s Office and report directly to him on these matters. “The financial donation will allow us to reduce their teaching responsibilities so that these employees can focus on diversity issues without affecting the budget or leaving their academic areas short-staffed,” said Smith.

“I understand the disappointment this delay in creating a new vice president position may cause. Let me assure you, I made the promise with every intention of keeping it, and I still intend to do all I can to make it happen in time. I hope you will join me in continuing to pray that our campus becomes a model, biblical community that stands firm on the belief that every individual on our campus is a treasured child of God,” Smith concluded.

When asked for comment regarding the decision not to fill the newly created VP of diversity role, Smith shared some of the work that has occurred over the last year-and-a-half which, in addition to the new advisory positions, includes monthly employee race dialogues, focus groups conducted by an outside consultant, student convocations, the SOAR initiative, an Against the Wall weekend in Fall 2018, a field trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama in January 2019, and an Employee Colloquium in August 2018 themed “Being Real, Living Well” that featured a lecture on the historical intersection of race and policy.

These initiatives also align with the objectives of the multi-pronged project to address racial justice and equity on campus that Southern received a $50,000 grant for from the Lumina Foundation’s Fund for Racial Justice and Equity in 2018.

I followed up with former SA President Phillip Warfield, who graduated in May 2019, and he expressed his disappointment in the decision not to fill the VP of diversity role.

“Though I’ve graduated, I find it hard to accept that the institution has yet to complete the promises mentioned in February 2018. I feel like we may be waiting on some administrator to come in and right our wrongs, but in reality, we need a culture shift with appropriate context in order to make inclusivity a real initiative,” he told me.

He expressed hope, however, that with administration and students working together, real change can occur:

“I’m happy (though not yet satisfied) that [Southern is] actively moving forward by giving two faculty the responsibility to lead racial and LGBTQIA+ relations, but I still believe that with enough support from all administration, students can lead inclusion in much larger and authentic ways.”

Warfield concluded with this challenge to his alma mater:

“The university will tell you all of their outlined work, but the students and people from all over the country will never know because there is not a central hub where it is actively reported, showcased, or even appreciated. With little money, there are multiple ways to improve inclusivity. The question: Is Southern bold enough to adopt such changes soon enough, or will they always ask us to wait for a better time? There’s more we can and should be doing.”

Alisa Williams is managing editor of

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

My question is, WHY can’t the current staff on the Administration, including
the President do the Diversity promotion.
ALL schools in the U.S. that were founded, like Southern, over 100 years
have a history.
Actually, that was WHY Oakwood was founded when it was, because of
of Diversity Issues in whole South.
What we NEED to be able to do is be OK with the History. Announce that
cultural thinking has changed [even in the SOUTH]. If certain groups prefer
to have times together allow for that. But announce that College is not a
place to “put down” any groups of persons – Blacks, Whites, LGBT’s, others.
Have Faculty Advisors assigned for all groups to assist with their “group time”
As we get more and more Latins attending College, Latins will be wanting to have
celebratory times together. And they will be one more Diversity Groups on campus.

A new VP is just tokenism. We are kin that spans age, sex, and color.
We sweat and bleed the same. We are under the same condemnation and have the same assurance. If we have heroes on the playing field let have classmates the same. What is needed is not a VP but a teacher of color in the classroom. Congress has a black chaplain, Southern needs the same. Let the Union pick up the cost.


Well… Let’s just say that there is more to the story than what is being shared here. The proposed title of “VP for Unity and Diversity” pretty much spells out the ambivalence that Southern Adventist University had toward this position from the beginning. Throw in the objections of a few influential donors and the thing was dead in the water. I have no doubt that Smith wants it to become a reality, but he’s going to need more support from his historically racist constituency than he currently has.


The Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity is fast becoming a standard position in Universities nationwide. It would be sad for Adventists, who must be at the forefront of fundamental human justice issues if they intent to be taken seriously as followers of Jesus, to be among the last to insist on this position on the administrative staff of our institutions. This position does not only address issues of race (although the position was created in response to racial issues) but also those issues dealing with gender, physical impairment, and just about any category that describes the under-served and the disenfranchised among us. My hope is that someone with deep pockets will step forward to fund this essential staff position - at least for the first year.


Southern HAS a history of having persons who were Quads and Handicapped
attending the University and living in the dorms.
WHY should Handicap be a problem NOW that they have a history of accommodating
Handicap persons?
Gender Issue – If you mean Transgender, perhaps the person might have to find
local housing. When my daughter moved out of the dorm into a rented “house”. There
were 3 other girls who moved in with her and shared rent and expenses. Freedom
from Dorm rules. She also had a job near the College in Chattanooga. She could
also entertain friends and family comfortably.

It seems to me that a prominent characteristic of Southern’s brand, what the University is known for, is its whiteness.

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It is my understanding that there ARE some dark skinned students who
choose NOT to go to Oakwood, and prefer to attend Southern.

There are OTHER issues with SDAs in obtaining High School and
College Education. COST of attending. Many persons elect to attend
local High Schools and local Colleges near their home.
So they are OPTING out of “Christian Education”.

Local SDA churches could HAVE Academy and College Bible classes
at church. Using Academy texts for Freshman, Sophomore, Junior,
Senior. And for Freshman and Sophomore College texts.
But so far have opted out of THAT too.

When it comes to SDA Education, there is NO IMAGINATION DISPLAYED!!

In the Southern Union we have 2 Black [Regional] Conferences. Do these
conferences and the SDA churches that belong to them PROMOTE Southern?
OR, do they just PROMOTE Oakwood which is in Huntsville, Ala?

I have mentioned this before – There are a LOT of Black SDA families who are
members of the “white” Georgia Cumberland Conference are very active in the
“integrated, WELCOMING churches”, and I see them attend the regional meetings
that the G-CC has during the year.
We recently had the Health Dpt of the conference put on a regional meeting in Macon.
At least half of the attendees were non-White. Which was VERY GOOD to see!!


Is Oakwood know for it’s whiteness? People usually choose what they are comfortable with. I am a seeker of fairness.

Thanks Steve. The Black Conferences didn’t want to be included, rightfully, because they had autonomy from someone taking their money and spending as they wanted.

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It is my understanding that Oakwood has not only students from the USA, but
also foreign students from other dark skinned countries.
At this time I don’t have a way to discover if any, or how many, “light skinned”
students they might have.
Perhaps someone could tell us who has more information.
— I don’t even KNOW if they have a VP of Diversity in one of their offices
on campus. Appears they NEED to have one, if “white” schools are mandated
to have one.


Steve Oakwood is 83% AA/B/ black others nations and 1% white according to “college diversity statistics.”

IF I remember the verbiage of the job posting correctly, there was mention of implementing evidence based policies with regards to gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. If my memory is correct (which it may not be), then Southern clearly had no idea as to what it was getting itself into by using the phrase “evidence based”. The LGBT community would have to be embraced with open arms. I don’t see that happening…pretty much ever.


A diversity adviser “with an emphasis on student sexual activity”? Surely, this must be for the purpose of bringing those unruly heterosexual students in line, right? Goodness. We all know they’re talking about the LGBTQ community. Why sexualize your LGBTQ students like this? Why not an adviser dealing with LGBTQ identity, trauma or spirituality? Nope. Just make certain those gay and trans kids aren’t having sex. I mean, this is so revealing. No wonder they’re not ready for a real VP for Diversity and Inclusion.

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Welcome back!.. :+1:


No, no, no; you must be kidding. Things like this don’t happen among Adventists, come on…
Nothing is new under the sun, uh?


My dad once interviewed for plant manager/COO with OD McKee. My dad found him a bit rigid and OD, my dad a bit loose. My dad was a plant manager with Sunshine Biscuit later bought up by American Brands. I was taught never to be over impressed by money.


My dad lost everything twice, first because of the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, when he HAD to get out of his town the night before the invasion, on his way to Belgium. Then, after going back to his Country after the War, he restarted his business, only to lose everything again when Communists took the Government, and he left the Country again, leaving everything behind. He was never impressed by money, and I learned it with him too.


I watched a movie on firefox the other night about Nicholas Winton, a stock broker, who saved over 600 Jewish children before the NAZI invasion of Czechekoslovakia, GOD BLESS him. Most sent to Britain.


Prov. 30:8, 9… …