by Ashley Mubiru
photography by Katelyn Keeling
“The term today is to be ‘woke’ right? To be ‘woke’ means to be paying attention to what is going on, to be alert, to be a critical thinker, to be aware of your surroundings; to know what the government is up to, and to be aware of how your actions impact the lives of others,” says Richard Rose, University of La Verne professor of religion and philosophy.
Dr. Rose, as students call him, is known as a guide to students and faculty and as a beacon of hope during the University’s present day search for inclusivity, understanding and change. He is also known as an activist and author who serves the University of La Verne in ways that reach far beyond the classroom. Citing that his main goal at the University of La Verne is to “wake up” his students and to encourage them to fight against injustices and micro aggressions, Dr. Rose is seeking funding representation for underserved students. And he has a passion to create space where underrepresented students have a right to be heard.
Charming, laid back and knowledgeable, Dr. Rose is always thinking ahead. His activist philosophy is that people do what they say they will do and make the changes in the world that need to take place. “I would say many of my students do articulate having learned something after going through a course or two.” In that spirit, he has made an effort to move the University forward by attempting to start an organization on campus called “OSHUN.” The acronym stands for opportunity, spirit, harmony, unity and negotiation. OSHUN, he says, gives resources toward underrepresented social groups, therefore giving a voice to the voiceless while tending to Black students on campus and their needs.
Dr. Rose says this new organization would allow underrepresented students to have their own funding control within the student government at the University. “It was something that was conceptualized by one of our students, Tyler Anderson. The idea was to have the African American affinity groups send a representative; which would sort of serve as this type of executive committee that would be able to deal with African American concerns on campus from a student perspective. It would help with issues of funding, it would help with scheduling activities and so forth here on campus. The students participating would get some sort of student government status, similar to what the students have in ASULV. The proposal was what I thought, and many others thought, a good one, but it never really got voice amongst the University administration. There was the idea that it was taking away from ASULV funding, and it was a separate organization kind of thing, which was never really its intent. There is still the possibility of having the organization realized here on campus. There’s going to have to be more work between Tyler [a senior], the Brothers Forum and BSU [Black Student Union]. In fact, Misty Livingston is trying to have a conversation amongst those persons to finalize the bylaws. Once that’s done, I think the University is prepared to at least hear what OSHUN was trying to do because of everything that has been going on now,” Dr. Rose says.
He says that an organization like OSHUN is important because it gives people a sense of belonging. “It allows people to have a certain identity that they can call their own, that then allows them to communicate freely with other people on campus who have their own identity. It really becomes an opportunity to do macro stuff in a micro way because we’re a small campus. So each community is able to authentically express who and what it is. We can learn to live together in that way, modeling what it would actually look like when we’re in the real world. We need to practice what we’ll actually be doing in our careers.”
This the second try to actualize the organization. According to Dr. Rose, the Department of Student Affairs is responsible for denying the existence of OSHUN. Undaunted, Dr. Rose and the students are working toward bringing the OSHUN conversation back to the forefront. Dr. Rose believes OSHUN is necessary for diversity, allowing underrepresented groups at ULV to receive the recognition, as well as the funding they deserve. “There have been numerous complaints on campus by students who feel that the student government is too Eurocentric, particularly responding to more Greek [sorority/fraternity] needs and concerns than other concerns on campus. When students request funding for different programs, the student government doesn’t understand the importance for funding for those programs, so consequently they are not receiving the funding that they need to make this University their home.”
The professor is also working toward bringing back the “Brothers Forum,” an organization founded by Dr. Rose that originally was comprised of African American males. Its purpose was to encourage men to achieve and to graduate on campus. “They were really like a support group for one another for both academic and social concerns. They would meet on a regular basis, sometimes weekly, but most of the time monthly. There had been years when there had been dinners and so forth when they gained sponsors, and it really was a stronghold for the academic community,” he says.
Dr. Rose believes the Brothers Forum is not consistently active is because it was originally designed for African American males. “The focus was then changed to support men of color, 50 percent of the membership being Hispanic. The focus was no longer African American concerns, but the concerns of men of color, which he says does not really address the African American needs. Since then, the group has not been able to regain its momentum. That was a deathblow, and the administration is responsible for it. If they want an organization “Men of Color” they should start that. Don’t take Brothers Forum.”
He notes that the Black Students Union is also problematic. The administration has been slow to put the structures in place to make sure these organizations thrive.” In the larger sense, the organizations will help boost students toward graduation, Dr. Rose says. “The graduation rate for Black students at ULV is low as it is nationally. So, it is not as though the University of La Verne is somehow behind what is happening at other institutions. But I think that because we are a small institution, we should be able to surpass what is happening on a national level. If we take our resources and really focus them on giving the students the attention that they need, we can actually do much better with our retention and graduation rates here on campus.”
Of the on-campus University population, 6 percent self identify themselves as Black. In the larger sense, Dr. Rose says that it is possible many Black students do not know of the University of La Verne. “We should probably do a better job of publicizing what we have here on campus and then creating a more welcoming environment. The University should show that you’re welcomed, and you’re welcomed to be who you are, as opposed to welcome to become something that WE want you to be. It seems as though that the way we are understanding diversity here now is, ‘We’ll bring diverse people in, and we’ll make them La Verne people.’ That’s not the way this is supposed to work. Diversity is supposed to come in, and the institution is supposed to become more diverse because of it, and I don’t think they quite get that.”
Spring 2019, student protests jarred the ULV campus, with students of color saying they have needs that are not being met. Says Dr. Rose, “I think the protests are necessary; they’re needed. They came out of the student’s recognition that the University isn’t doing all that it needs to address the issues of our diverse population. It is unfortunate that in the climate that we live in today, that it is OK to fight back against persons who are seeking to have their due here in the United States because of some notions of privilege. That seems to be the climate in which we are now living. But, those with privilege are not going to win. The momentum of the country, the nation, and the world is just against that old mentality. I think that’s part of the problem. They are making their last stand in a sense. When you got a group whose backs are up against the wall, they result to desperate measures, and that’s what we’re dealing with right now.” Dr. Rose believes that ULV can actually model the values that it proclaims in its Mission Statement. “I hope that the University can represent its mission, that it can fall in line and actually do those things, so that people
can see they take their values seriously.
The man behind these thoughts is an assistant church pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Pasadena, which grew from the Methodist denomination. He has been an ordained minister for 40 years. “I’m a religious pluralist so I affirm religious traditions of multi-faiths. That conflicts with some Christians, but it doesn’t conflict with me because I think Christianity is open in that way. That’s the way I teach Christianity. I teach it as an open tradition that actually promotes God’s love first, before doctrinal beliefs because I base it on Jesus’ understanding that we’re to live by the spirit and not the legal letter of things.”
Dr. Rose wants his students to know that Christianity is one form of communicating with God, but each religion offers insight into how to respond to ultimate reality. “Their language may be different, but the basic teaching is the same. If folks can understand that religious traditions are not at odds with one another but can actually be a healing force in today’s society, that would be a good message for students to walk away with.” He believes religion exists in order to find one’s place in the universe, in order to understand who and what we are in relation to cosmic order. His life philosophy is that one should learn to live responsibly in each moment by being aware of not only what is present, but what is coming in order to anticipate doing the right thing as life unfolds.
His philosophical thoughts are captured in two books he has authored. Regarding “7 Meditations on the Lord’s Prayer,”: “Most who read the Lord’s Prayer just read it and say it without thinking about it. My book shows the similarities with the Lord’s prayer to the eastern Kundalini chakra system. If you actually meditate on the Lord’s Prayer, it’s a path to spiritual enlightenment beginning with the Base Chakra and moving on to Chakra No. 7. “An Interfaith Approach to a Social Ethic for Christian Audiences” examines the nature of language and the way that language is metaphorical in nature. “It shows that what we do in religions is often think that our language is literal. The book defines what it is that we are speaking of so that it is really referring to that thing as our language states it. Religion argues very much against that because language can never capture the essence of the divine. Rather than argue about our language, which is very different, we need to see how our religious traditions function. The similarities that are found in that function allow us to do work in the community together without arguing over words that are chosen because they fit a particular tradition’s paradox,” Dr. Rose says. He adds, “It is all part of being ‘woke’ to life.” ■