Why can’t everyone be like us?

PAMELA LIGHTSEY The associate dean for community life and lifelong learning at the School of Theology says, “It’s great that #BlackLivesMatter has been a well-supported movement full of leaders. It will be better when we no longer need movements to ensure justice.”

Otherness has dominated the front pages this past year. Transgender. Black. Muslim. Latino. Immigrant. Gay. The list goes on. As a major urban university, we are not immune to the cultural turmoil and political tumult that unfold beyond Comm Ave, nor do we shy away. From the beginning, inclusiveness has been a core value, and our diverse student body and faculty—reflective of the vibrant and challenging world around us—is one of our great strengths.

And when it comes to the pursuit of justice, empowerment, and change, Pamela Lightsey, the clinical assistant professor and associate dean for community life and lifelong learning at the School of Theology, is leading the conversation—and the charge.

Whether documenting in real time the racial unrest that sundered Ferguson, Missouri, when a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager, or addressing violence against black LBTQ women in her book Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology (Pickwick Publications, 2015), the military veteran and social justice activist isn’t afraid to mix it up—on and off campus.

the profile
of disruption

Since opening its doors 30 years ago, BU’s Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground has been a welcoming place for students to discuss racial and cultural divides on campus and to explore their shared humanity. With societal upheavals around the country this year sparking plenty of campus demonstrations, including at BU, the center’s mission has become even more critical. The University has committed additional resources and space so that the Thurman Center can broaden its reach and mission to strengthen inclusiveness and communities in and around the BU campus.

Last December, President Robert A. Brown announced the establishment of a task force to explore ways the center could be more visible and accessible to the community. Presently, it’s located on a lower level in the student union. The conversations that take place there—from socially responsible investing to gun control to global conflict—would undoubtedly benefit from wider exposure and participation, says Associate Provost and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore.

“We’ve clearly had a disruptive year societally, and campus hasn’t been any different,” he says. “The discussions at the Howard Thurman Center have been disruptive—good disruptive. We’ve had disruptive conversations about who teaches here and where they’re from. We talk about how to have a community where people aren’t disparaged, where people are thinking about their roles in society and their roles as college students.”

Expect to hear much more, and at a greater volume, when a new, more central location is selected sometime next year.

“Each time I travel to Ferguson—or for that matter, most segregated communities of people of color—I see the currency of racism continues to destroy both oppressed and oppressor. I participate in the Movement for Black Lives optimistic about what shall be accomplished but at the same time lamenting how little has been gained,” she wrote last spring in the school’s focus magazine. “It’s great that #BlackLivesMatter has been a well-supported movement full of leaders. It will be better when we no longer need movements to ensure justice.”

Lightsey, an openly queer lesbian African American cleric in the United Methodist Church, and a fierce enemy of stereotyping, is devoted to coming at an issue from all sides, juxtaposing seemingly irreconcilable views. Take her course, Queer Theology, for example, which studies questions about religion posed by gay, transgender, bisexual, and gender-questioning people. Because of widespread prejudice, according to Lightsey, many of them ask, “Does God hate me?”

By being out about her own sexual orientation, and as a social justice activist, Lightsey hopes to be a role model for LGBTQ people. “When they look at my life and the work that I do, I hope that it gives them courage to be their most authentic selves—out.”