When Julie J. Park was an undergrad at Vanderbilt University, she visited a friend at Stanford, who introduced her to a unique campus group: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
“They happened to be having a conversation about race that day. It really threw me off, because it was one of the most honest dialogues I had ever seen on that subject, and it was happening in this Christian evangelical community,” says Park. “I have to say that wasn’t where I expected to find that.”
Years later, when Park was earning her Ph.D. in Education from at UCLA, she sought out a nearby InterVarsity group in the hopes of studying the group's commitment to racial reconciliation.
But she soon realized that InterVarsity had changed – and so had higher education in California. Due to myriad factors – including changes in the Affirmative Action law – the campus group became less and less diverse in the years she studied them and, consequently, lost much of their commitment to racial reconciliation.
Her new book – “When Diversity Drops: Race, Religion and Affirmative Action in Higher Education” – chronicles her time embedded with InterVarsity, from 2006 – 2008.
“The first few times students mentioned their concerns about dwindling diversity, I just made a note and moved on. But soon they were saying it so often, that it became hard to ignore,” says Park. “By 2007 the group had almost no African American students, and there was a lot less discussion about race.”
Park parallels this narrative with the downward trend in African American attendance at all California colleges and universities. By 2008, many perceived the once multicultural campus group as a tight-knit Asian American community.
“Over time they dropped the ball on harboring a culture where they were intentionally reaching out across race,” says Park. “So, while the African American presence was going down on campus, the Asian American presence was going up, and the Asian Americans were becoming less proactive about building relationships across racial lines.”