Azusa Pacific professors T. Scott Bledsoe, PhD., and Kimberly Setterlund, MSW, LCSW
Azusa Pacific professors T. Scott Bledsoe, PhD., and Kimberly Setterlund, MSW, LCSW

APU Professors Co-Author Book on Diversity in Higher Ed

by Peter Cooley

Azusa Pacific professors T. Scott Bledsoe, PhD., Department of Clinical Psychology, and Kimberly Setterlund, MSW, LCSW, Department of Social Work, share insights from their newly published book, Using Narratives and Storytelling to Promote Cultural Diversity on College Campuses (IGI Global, 2021).

APU: How important is cultural diversity on college campuses?

TB: A diverse body of students from a variety of backgrounds provides a valuable tapestry of experiences on a college campus, contributing to cultural understanding and better communication with one another.

KS: The richness of diversity on college campuses enhances learning from one another, both in and out of the classroom. As educators, we have an important role in providing an environment for students where we can learn to embrace each other’s differences and see the beauty and uniqueness in one another.

What is the goal of promoting cultural diversity at APU, specifically? How does being a Christian university shape this objective?

TB: Jesus interacted with and discipled people from many backgrounds, recognizing their value in His Kingdom. The Bible itself was originally written in multiple languages. Looking through the lens of our faith tradition, we see a true intersection and integration of cultures. In our world today, we see a multiplicity of cultures, languages, ethnicities, and backgrounds within our faith—it’s no stretch to celebrate diversity as Christ followers. As an open enrollment Christian university, APU benefits from a diverse student population that reflects our Southern California location and this adds greatly to our campus.

KS: Jesus showed time and again in his ministry how he embraced those who were different, diverse, and on the outskirts of society. The Bible shows us that God loves diversity. He created each of us different from one another, from our personal attributes to our cultural ones. Living our “God First” mission means loving our neighbor as ourselves and recognizing that each of us is made in His image.

What prompted the two of you to write this book?

TB: I have taught classes on cultural diversity at APU’s Orange County Regional Campus for 11 years, and it is something that I have grown to love discussing. Professor Setterlund and I started a qualitative study some years ago, meeting with students and researching their cultures and backgrounds. From this study, we wanted to further bring the students’ stories to life in the form of a book.

KS: We have done other projects together, and had planned to write an article or two. However, as we started working, we realized that we had such rich and timely material that we decided to shift our focus to a book. We thought this would be more honoring for the voices and stories of the students involved.

How would you describe your writing process?

TB: We started out by establishing a solid framework. We created certain parameters to make sure that we were covering the bases. After this, we moved to focusing on and incorporating the stories of the students.

KS: Over the years, Dr. Bledsoe and I have developed a smooth collaborative process. Sometimes we have brainstorming sessions, other times we dive deep into topics, giving candid feedback to each other on projects. We are both very detail oriented, which makes our writing process enjoyable and able to flow well.

What is the importance of narratives in your framework model?

TB: Conversations around cultural diversity are extremely complex and can often lead to conflict or misunderstanding. We designed our framework model to represent the human experience as a whole, including beliefs, values, schemas, and emotions. Having a framework allows stories to develop and flourish, making it easier to have important conversations and understand one another better.

KS: Using this narrative framework model allows us to be honest, authentic, and vulnerable with one another. The model approach reduces the desire for people to have debate, but rather fosters dialogue and helps us learn together. Students are able to fully listen to each others’ stories and authentically draw closer to one another.

What is the value of dialogue versus debate?

TB: Looking at the world around us, from the news to the Thanksgiving table, most of what we hear is debate. It involves finger pointing and eye rolling, and we focus on what we are going to say next, rather than intentionally listening. Dialogue, on the other hand, is more about being fully present and listening to the other person. It’s not so much about me getting my points across to you, but rather fully listening to what you’re telling me, even if I disagree. It’s about hearing and understanding one anothers’ lived experiences. This approach is especially relevant nowadays, given the current ideological landscape around cultural diversity after the death of George Floyd.

KS: In dialogue, we are focusing on meeting one another where we are. We are on a path, learning together, rather than having a winner and loser. With such a strong ideological divide nowadays, college students can easily debate with one another rather than having dialogue.

What surprised you most in writing this book?

TB: What surprised me the most was how the students’ stories were enriched. The stories, on paper, can often seem two-dimensional, like transcriptions. Through the context of the book, the stories were further brought to life, finding new angles and adding another dimension to the narratives. This led us to creating exercises based upon the stories.

KS: After many revisions, we were intently focused on making a cohesive work. In adding the exercises, we felt as though readers had a more practical way to apply the ideas in their own lives.

If you could pick one thing for readers to take away from reading your book, what would that be?

TB: Cultural diversity is an extremely complex topic, and it can be difficult to engage in constructive conversations. I hope that our book gives people a practical model to better understand both our own stories and backgrounds, as well as others.

KS: Every chapter is so unique, and there are so many facets to the discussion on cultural diversity. One specific part that speaks to me is the chapter on faith. I hope readers are affected by the stories, and can see the power behind what happens when faith is incorporated into the discussion.

Peter Cooley is a public relations intern in the Division of Strategic Communications and Engagement. He is a music education and honors humanities major, and performs in multiple ensembles at APU. Outside of work, Peter enjoys reading, hiking, and composing original music.