Race and equity have always been personal interests for Sandra Mayo, but she never before desired obtaining a leadership role with these issues as the center of her work.
This kind of work can be motivational, but it can also be deeply personal and emotionally draining, Mayo explained.
But after a long journey of healing and through God’s “absolute perfect love,” Mayo wanted to take that healing and create a more personal, more internal, more relational healing ministry.
So when Seattle Pacific posted the job for vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, she went for it. She said it was like a voice was telling her, “This is the role for you.”
So when Mayo found out a colleague of hers also submitted an application for the same position, she thought to herself, “He’s going to be tough competition.”
Why was he going for the position? Why was this obstacle put before her?
These questions weighed down on her heart, but as she got ready for work—she was still at Azusa Pacific University at this point—she heard the Lord’s voice telling her to trust him, and to trust him not with her head down but to trust him with joy and laughter.
And she listened to him.
Mayo joined SPU’s family in July of this year. As SPU’s first vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, she will be focusing on “developing an integrated vision and shared responsibility for diversity at Seattle Pacific University,” as noted on the school’s website.
She will serve as a resource and work collaboratively for academic and administrative teams on campus, establishing, coordinating, and assessing their contributions to “institutional diversity goals.”
But before she became SPU’s vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, before she really became an active advocate for diversity, she was simply the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, one of the few students of color in the suburbs in New Jersey.
She experienced bias in school, but the issue was never really talked about at home because race was not an issue in Jamaica. Instead, Mayo’s parents wanted her and her two siblings to focus on taking advantage of the formal education, which was not provided in Jamaica.
It was in the fifth grade when she was first “raced,” called out by her male, white teacher, asked to stand and explain to the class what the Underground Railroad was because “those were her people,” she recalled him saying. Yet it was not so much what he said, but his look and tone that struck Mayo.
She has wrestled with the issue of race since then, but it was in college that Mayo was really exposed to a bigger collective group of peers also dealing with the subjects of race and equity, trying to learn and understand the meaning of all these differences against a culturally diverse background.
As an English major, Mayo studied different slave narratives by black authors. Through them, she developed a sense of “strength and empowerment” seeing herself in the text.
Yet she also felt anger, angry that she was not exposed to these kinds of readings before, causing her to question her education. Fast forward years later, and she began to ask God to give her opportunities to become a leader in the discussion, to become an active member in the charge. Not long after, she started being asked to talk at workshops and training sessions; her work was becoming more visible.
She wanted to pursue race and equity issues as spiritual work, to live in the “messy places” rather than run from them, to experience the beauty of them, and through that, experience who the Lord is.
Now as the VPDEI, Mayo wants to humanize diversity. She doesn’t want diversity to feel mechanical or obligatory; she doesn’t want institutions to be caught in a trap of meeting quotas and instead wants to focus on the values of a diverse population.
“Diversity is not a set of boxes,” she continued. “Diversity should be understood as ethos, as opposed to categories.”
The students of SPU, Mayo said, “are in a great place to dialogue during one of the most divisive times in our history.”
The students are poised to lead in conversations, and Mayo’s hope is that SPU will be a place that equips them well to carry the charge as a model to the nation and the world. Mayo sees SPU students doing great things, armed with greater knowledge than generations before, but she also warns of the greater dangers of these times.
So, she encourages students to remain open to learning how to develop skills of compassion, working towards a goal of healing, to listen not in order to make a point, but to hear the logic of narratives within different perspectives and still be engaged in the conversation.
Mayo wants the students to look to her as “another landing place” and a listening ear to foster their growth. “Diversity for me,” she said, “is spiritual work I am called to live out.”