Student leaders see demographic shift as opportunity for growth
By Melissa Schill, News Reporter
The Wheaton College class of 2023 is the most ethnically diverse class the school has welcomed since its founding in 1860. Although specific numbers will not be released until Sept. 10, Chief Enrollment Management Officer Silvio Vazquez reported that minority domestic students make up around 30% of this year’s freshman class, including Latinx, black, Asian, native Pacific Islander, American Indian and students of two or more races.
The diversity of the class of 2023 is reflective of Wheaton’s efforts to make the college a more inclusive community while also reflecting trends in the global body of Christ. “We are to reflect the Church, not one stream of the Church, but many streams of the Church, whether it’s denominational, international, cultural or domestic diversity … For me it’s [about] understanding the Church, it’s [about] understanding the other,” Vazquez said. “It’s being best equipped to serve and lead as young Christian men and women in a very diverse world, not only ethnically but philosophically, culturally.”
“Honestly I’m just excited for that shift in demographics because it will no longer be seen as different when we celebrate other cultures,” said Executive Vice President of Community Diversity Estefy Hernandez. “My goal is that it’s normalized, that it’s not random when Gospel Choir sings and it’s not random when we have worship in Spanish, that it’s not random when we celebrate cultural heritages.”
Hernandez hopes to use her student leadership position to promote both ethnic and gender diversity to make Wheaton a more hospitable place for students. She also stressed the importance of having staff leaders from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds for the students on campus. During her first year at Wheaton, there were no Latinx staff members in the Office of Multicultural Development (OMD), which she described as harmful to her experience as a freshman. The OMD recently hired Cristina Guevara, a Latinx woman as one of its graduate assistants.
Yehna Kim is a leader in the 1-2-1 program at Wheaton, which aims to provide mentorship and guidance to multicultural students in their freshman year. Kim thinks that increasing ethnically diverse leadership across campus through 1-2-1 and similar programs could help to make Wheaton a more fully integrated, vibrant community. “I think we need someone who looks similar to us to say ‘speak up,’” she said.
“We have to understand where the students are coming from,” Vazquez said, “what contexts they’re coming from if we’re going to [honor] our mission to serve our students … I am excited about how committed Wheaton is [to] reflecting the rich mosaic of Christ.”