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A Personal Reflection on the FTE Consultation at AAR/SBL

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Photo Credit: Haddon Givens Kime

Getting up at 3:30 a.m. to get to the airport by 4:30 a.m. is never fun.  But it was for a Fund for Theological Education (FTE) Alumni consultation meeting; so I felt alright about compromising my sleeping hours. The FTE Alumni consultation was held at Chicago Temple-United Methodist Church at 9 a.m. on Friday November 16, 2012.  It was a pre-AAR meeting to see how FTE should precede in the future as they won’t be accepting applications for fellowships that would be awarded in the 2013-2014 academic year.

Matthew Williams who is the Director of FTE’s fellowship programs recently stated that “FTE is putting a hold on fellowship programs to undergo a strategic assessment and planning process for the i-rzLmDZH-Tifuture of the organization. Thus, the doctoral programs will not accept new applications for fellowships during the 2012-2013 academic year. This is a bold and unprecedented move for FTE. These programs have been a vital source of support for underrepresented communities in the academy. There is much at stake in this decision for people of color. We don’t take this lightly.  The doctoral programs reflect FTE’s longest standing legacy and contribution to theological education. Our commitment to cultivating religious and theological scholar-educators from communities of color remains at the core of FTE’s values and mission.”

FTE’s mission is “to cultivate diverse young people to be faithful, wise and courageousi-3cDF3BQ-M leaders for the church and the academy. Quality leadership in ministry makes a difference in people’s lives every day. Every community needs capable, compassionate Christian leaders who serve the common good, strive for justice, build up the community and share the Gospel. We invite you to join us in supporting future pastors, those who teach them and the communities that call them.”

As part of FTE’s ongoing strategic assessment, they held this meeting to bring together past alums to reflect, discuss and explore how FTE has made a difference in our doctoral studies.  The consultation was designed to hear what FTE’s constituents and partners in doctoral education need and want in light of the changing landscape and persistent challenges of theological education.  We were separated into various groups and discussed two questions:

  1. What role did FTE play in your formation as a scholar and/or as a mentor?
  2. What was missing in your formation? What difference would it have made if it were present?

The discussions and comments which emerged were lively, encouraging and affirming of each other’s presence in the academy.i-Bqkh3BD-M

Overwhelmingly, the alumni were grateful for their FTE scholarship and fellowships.  Many shared that FTE is more than an organization that hands out scholarship, as it was a place for mentorship, networking and empowerment.  Many alums share the mutual feeling of a willingness to pay back to FTE for the immeasurable gift that they have received during their doctoral studies.  The participants wanted to volunteer, engage, participate in FTE events to help present FTE fellows in any way they can.  Some also felt that participating in this consultation was one small way to pay back for what we have received.

For many doctoral students and scholars of color, it is important to work together, mentor and establish a good network as many graduate and go i-54nXTbq-Tiinto administrative or teaching positions.  One of the feelings of the mid-career FTE alums and the recent hires of FTE alums is isolation in their respective institutions.  As scholars of color, many of us have to fight against institutional racism, white privilege and racial tokenism.  Some of these were very difficult to articulate and share, but many felt the necessity to at least bring it to the table.

As the consultation came to a close with a delicious luncheon, the overall feeling in the room was encouragement, excitement and empowerment.  There is something when racialized minorities gather together to network.  Many of us strongly believe in the work of FTE and believe that a better day is ahead as we work together to help students of color as they study, graduate and begin their teaching careers.  We need more programs or channels of opportunity to encourage scholars of color to stay within the academy and to fight against the giants that exist within the institution.

As grateful as I was back in 2000 when I received the FTE North American Doctoral i-Lx5xHmp-MFellowship, I am grateful today for all the work that FTE does to recruit, sustain and mentor students of color.  I hope that I was able to contribute something of myself to this wonderful consultation.  I went to give, but ended up once again receiving. The networking, sharing, affirmation and encouragement that I received from fellow alums and FTE staff during the consultation was worth the 3:30 a.m. wake up call.

(this is a repost of my column posted on the FTE site.  Please read Matthew Wesley Williams’ blog on FTE’s Future of Doctoral Programs).

[for another AAR event, please also read:  “AAR: Sex, Gender, Sexuality and Religion Cluster”]

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blog1Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the MATS program at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She is the author of The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Pilgrim Press).

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