Survival in the Lily Fields: FTE Doctoral Fellowships

... many scholars of color are treated like the rose. Left out in a field of lilies - the only one of its kind - trying to engender life when the gardeners are set out to provide a mono-culture of beauty.

A flower farmer went out to his lily fields to see how they were growing. He looked over his acreage and saw the lilies swaying in the wind. He thought to himself, “What a beautiful field of lilies.” He saw out in the corner of his fields a small rose rising just above the rest of the lilies. He marched over to pull the colorful rose from the ground. This rose, thick stemmed and covered in strong, healthy thorns that extended below the surface, refused to be removed from the land. Angry, the gardener returned to his shed to get tools to dig and cut the rose out of the ground. But, the roots were too deep and the web of stems was so masterfully weaved that he could not find a single entry point for his sheers.

“I know. I will use nature against the rose.” The gardener invited insects to chew on the rose. Satisfied with the system in place to get rid of the roses, the gardner returned to his home convinced that finally the rose would go away, leaving his lily fields pure once more.

“More flowers!” The farmer yelled, as he looked out over his fields. He rushed towards the rose, only to find more roses and now marigolds, too. These gold flowers gathered around the bases of the roses. The marigolds shared their ability to repel the small insects from the roses. To return the favor, the roses wrapped the marigolds in its thorny stems to protect them from the gardener.

Irate, the farmer turned off the water to a larger area of the garden. “Some of my lilies will die in the sun without water, but so will the roses and marigolds.” He went back to the house satisfied he had taken care of the marigolds and roses.

“What?” The farmer looked out over a dying crop of lilies only to find thriving marigolds and roses, providing dazzling color to the entire field. There were purples, yellows, golds, oranges, reds, and whites, all over his fields. Roses and marigolds are hardy plants, passing in their genetic code abilities to survive the heat and long droughts.

Scholars of color work, preach, teach, manage, live and die in the lily fields.

In 2014, Matthew Wesley Williams posted about why we offer Fellowships, mentoring, and support for doctoral students of color in his post “Why we do this.” He makes the case that while bringing representational diversity to theological education is important, it is ultimately insufficient. He goes on to suggest we need a whole ecology of care and attention. I agree.

I would add many scholars of color are treated like the rose. Left out in a field of lilies - the only one of its kind - trying to engender life when the gardeners are set out to provide a mono-culture of beauty. We are not typically provided adequate resources, nutrients, and care. And in many ways, we have had to develop strong root structures that twist and turn and dive deep to gain access to reservoirs of water that exist below the surface. We build defenses that keep the gardener’s hands from removing us from the ground. In order to survive the lily fields, we need partners, support, and the strength of others who provide the defenses that we don’t have. We need gardeners who will tend to the roses and marigolds.

On Monday, October 3, a new set of scholars began to apply for FTE Doctoral Fellowships for students of African Descent and Latino/a, Asian, Pacific Islands, and First Nations. Each of these scholars of color are in a lily field. These lily fields are beautiful in their own way, but the fellowships - inclusive of mentoring, conversations with other scholars of color within the FTE network, and professional development opportunities - are ways we are making space in the lily field so that the next generation can grow and thrive. A field of color can only thrive if each rose survives. And if we do that well, one day the field will be full of roses and marigolds.