Journal Title George Fox Journal Online

Act Six
by Tamara Cissna | tcissna@georgefox.edu

After 12 years of living in the Portland metro area, senior Nicole Tabbal visited northeast Portland for the first time last year. It was the university’s annual Serve Day, and she and other students joined with Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods executive John Canda to pick up trash in neighborhoods surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the area Canda says the media dubs the most dangerous place in Portland.

As the students wound through residential neighborhoods and school zones, they exchanged greetings with residents. Their last stop was inside the shelter for Hurricane Katrina refugees at the defunct Washington-Monroe High School. There the lone cluster of white students watched volunteers hard at work arranging clothing, canned foods, and rows of cots. Rather than posing a sense of danger as some had imagined, this neighborhood instead presented warmth and community.

The name Act Six comes from a biblical reference to the early church. Leaders responded to inequity in the distribution of resources by appointing minority leadership that would assist the Church toward its mission (Acts 6:1–7). Act Six operates from the conviction that cities and colleges need this same kind of leadership today.

Tabbal says she grew up in "a 99 percent white suburb." Because of two close friendships she’s formed at George Fox and her Serve Day experience, she has happily discarded old stereotypes. "It’s all about exposure," she says.

George Fox considers exposure to diverse cultures an essential part of education, guiding more than 75 percent of its students through overseas experiences and supporting a multicultural services office. But on a campus that remains predominately white, opportunities to interact with diverse cultures are limited.

"As believers we feel we are called to understand and celebrate the diversity that God has created," says Brad Lau, vice president for Student Life. "The kingdom of God encompasses all races. We would like our Christian environment to reflect that reality."

Now the university aims to better achieve this ideal through the Act Six leadership development and scholarship program. Beginning in fall 2007, George Fox will provide scholarships to a multicultural cadre of up to 10 Portland leaders in urban high schools. By the fourth year, as many as 40 scholars will be enrolled.

Central to Act Six, which was created by the Northwest Leadership Foundation in Tacoma, Wash., is developing students who will lead on campus and then return to serve as role models and leaders in their own inner-city communities. "This is very much in keeping with our mission — to demonstrate the meaning of Christ by participating in our world’s concerns," Lau says.

Thus, the students will be chosen based primarily on leadership potential, not financial need. Many students will bring outside scholarships with them, with George Fox making up the difference for tuition, room and board, and books.

Applicants may be of any race, but must be from urban high schools in Portland. At the two faith-based institutions already running the program — Whitworth College in Washington and Crichton College in Tennessee — about 79 percent are students of color. Students may come from any faith background.

Act Six places high emphasis on preparation and support, says Joel Perez, George Fox’s newly hired director of Act Six and first-year programs. "In higher education, people don’t always know how to encourage people of lower socioeconomic status or people of color to adjust and succeed. The transition is very difficult."

Indeed retention rates are typically low for college students from outside the dominant culture, even among scholarship recipients. However, Act Six boasts a 97 percent retention rate since its beginnings at Whitworth in 2003.

Joel Perez (Photo by Edis Jurcys) Joel Perez, director of Act Six and first-year programs, understands the difficulties students of color face when adapting to a new culture. When he began college at Biola University, he initially assimilated into its then predominately white culture by joking about his background in a virtually homogenous Hispanic community. It may have helped him gain acceptance, but Perez began realizing he was rejecting his identity. After going through a confrontational stage, he decided to become a bridge-builder. Perez became president of Hispanic Fellowship, helped develop social action clubs, and became involved in student government to help increase awareness of diversity issues and the concerns of first-generation students. “I had found my voice and believed I could best express my perspective and the needs of marginalized students through involvement in the life of the college,” he says. Perez looks forward to sharing his experiences with students who will relate. “When you’re a person of color, you can become a mirror, reflecting how you worked through similar experiences.” Perez comes to George Fox from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., where, since 2001, he was associate director of student programs and was instrumental in developing diversity programs on campus. Perez earned a master’s degree in education from Azusa Pacific in 1998 and is working on a doctorate in higher education from Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif.

To help students begin college with a built-in support system, Portland Central Young Life, an Act Six affiliate, is partnering with the university. Young Life will recruit and select scholars early in their senior years, and then train them in the nine months before they come to campus. Julianne Johnson, well-known Portland vocalist and humanitarian, was hired to lead this program. Perez will guide the students through the transition once they arrive, helping them plug into campus life, and providing mentoring and leadership development.

Embracing diversity, however, is about more than just statistics — it’s a matter of the heart, says Canda. Act Six not only will expose students "to people who don’t look like them, but also give them an opportunity to build real relationships and possibly to walk through life together," he says.

Tabbal agrees. When asked if she feels Act Six will enrich the campus, she says that adding to the diversity would be great, though not if it’s run as a charity program. "But if we approach it from the belief that everyone has an equal point of view and a valuable story to share, it could really benefit George Fox and the students who come here."

To apply for Act Six, students should visit actsix.org or call Julianne Johnson at 503-281-3757.

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