GBHEM’s Women of Color Scholars Gather in San Antonio to Inspire and Inform

Danecia Jones
November 23, 2016

The current class of Women of Color (WOC) scholars recently gathered in San Antonio, for a two-day event focused on academic updates, inspiration and open and honest conversation. The 10 scholarship recipients come together annually to meet with mentors and provide a progress report on their academic endeavors. The WOC scholarship program is a four-year commitment from the church and the religious scholars. Although the scholars are within different phases of religious studies doctorate programs at seminaries and universities across the U.S., the women all desire to serve on the faculty or in an executive administrative position at a UM-related theological school.

The office of Loans and Scholarships at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) is the host for the WOC scholarship program. Established to directly address the lack of women of color faculty at United Methodist seminaries and theological schools, WOC has served over 70 women since its founding in 1987. More than 40 of the program’s scholars are teaching in seminaries, universities and theological schools in the U.S., Africa, Korea and Vietnam.

The current WOC scholars include: Elyse Ambrose, Drew University Theological Seminary; Amy Barbour, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary; Raquel Feagins, Oblate School of Theology; Betty Jones, Union Institute and University; Hyun Hui Kim, Drew University Theological Seminary; Hyemin Na, Candler School of Theology; Eun Joo Park, Boston University School of Theology; Alma Ruiz, Duke Divinity School; Michelle Shaw, Northwestern University; and Catherine Williams, Princeton Theological Seminary.

La Trinidad United Methodist Church served as the primary meeting space for the San Antonio event. La Trinidad was a very fitting location as it is steeped in a long, rich history with roots tracing back to the Alamo.  Established in 1876 as the first Hispanic Methodist church in the city, La Trinidad maintains an impressive artifact collection, including original church rolls, detailed history of Rev. Alejo Hernandez, the first Mexican to be ordained within the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and letters from Alexander H. Sutherland, church founder. WOC Scholar Raquel Feagins is associate pastor at the church and her husband, John Feagins, is pastor.

Kirsten Sonkyo Oh, Azusa Pacific University; Cristian De La Rosa, Boston University School of Theology; and Rosetta Ross, WOC chair, Spellman College, serve as the current mentors for the program, all of whom are former WOC scholarship recipients themselves. The mentors, who volunteer to serve as academic and moral support for the women on their journey of higher education, meet with the scholars during this annual gathering, and also spend a great deal of time working with the scholars throughout the year via email and phone. The mentors provide helpful advice for doctorate work, as well as their experience serving as women of color faculty in higher education institutions.

The financial support of the scholarship is invaluable to the theology scholars. However, many of the scholars shared that the mentorship and fellowship offered with the WOC program are what make it truly invaluable. “The Women of Color program has such a rich history. It fills a space for African-American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic and Latino women theology scholars – a space where we can do meaningful, impactful work,” said WOC Scholar Elyse Ambrose. “Women of Color provides relational training that we may not gain through our programs,” added WOC Scholar Amy Barbour, “With the program we gain personal and professional development, while forming a network and lasting relationships.”

On the first evening of the event, the scholars gathered to discuss the successes and challenges they have faced within the past year. This conversation provided the women with an open and supportive space to gain inspiration, motivation and validation of their work toward doctorates in religious studies. The scholars’ focuses range from homiletics to practical theology and ethics. As each is pursuing a different discipline of religious study, the scholars can share their academic work to gain objective and diverse feedback.

“Every time we meet with the scholars it reaffirms the need and value of the program. Women of Color gives the scholars a platform and a safe haven to gain support in what can be a difficult journey at times,” said Allyson Collinsworth, executive director of the Office of Loans & Scholarships at GBHEM. “I am amazed by the women and their outstanding work, and I am proud that GBHEM can play a role in helping these women reach their goals and develop talent for our UM seminaries.”

Kathy Armistead, GBHEM publisher, joined the women on the first evening to provide best practices and tips for publication during and after their doctoral work. Armistead offered the scholars guidelines for academic book publishing along with an overview of the top academic book publishers for consideration. Armistead encouraged the scholars to begin networking and creating relationships with publishers. She also advised the scholars to research the different publishing houses to ensure that their academic works align with the focus of the publisher.

On day two, the scholars provided an overview of their academic work, highlighting specific research papers or dissertation work. One of the new scholars to the program shared her vision for her future work in pastoral care, while another who is preparing to exit the program shared a chapter from her dissertation. The academic updates included a wide range of subjects from profiles of biblical figures to analysis of historic eras in American history.

Following the academic updates, the WOC scholars were the featured guests at a reception with former mentors, past scholars, seminary leaders and American Academy of Religion (AAR) participants. The format of this year’s reception differed in the presentations provided by the scholars exiting the program this year. Elyse Ambrose, Amy Barbour and Hyun Hui Kim each presented a seven-minute overview of their academic work focused on biblical profiles, and examination of historical figures and the journey to self-identify. The scholars’ presentations were reviewed and summarized by fellow WOC scholar, Catherine Williams. Following the presentation, the scholars answered questions from the audience about their experiences in their doctorate programs and the WOC scholarship program.

“We consider the event a success because each of our scholars left with helpful advice and tips, as well as support, encouragement and the understanding that they have a network of Women of Color scholars behind them in their doctorate work,” Collinsworth said.

To help ensure that this invaluable resource is around for many years to come, online giving to the Women of Color program is available online.

About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to prepare global leaders for a global church and the world. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call on their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.

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