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De Puertas Abiertas designed to attract and retain students of color

The Austin Seminary Board of Trustees at its May meeting approved a proposal to establish De Puertas Abiertas, a program to create nine full fellowships and offer 100% tuition discounts exclusively for students from the Global Majority (Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/LatinX, and Asian/Pacific Islander). The program goes into effect with the Fall 2021 term.

The De Puertas Abiertas Fellowships will be awarded to three entering students in the Master of Divinity program each year. Each fellowship, renewable for a period up to three years, will cover the full cost of matriculation: tuition, fees, and a stipend for campus housing and additional expenses. These merit fellowships will be voted upon by the faculty each spring and given to students from the Global Majority who demonstrate interest in and strong promise for leadership in the church and exceptional academic achievement.

The De Puertas Abiertas Tuition Grants will cover 100% of the tuition for students of the Global Majority who are enrolled full time in the MDiv, MAMP, or MATS program. Though given without regard to need, recipients are required to meet satisfactory academic progress, and the grants are subject to the availability of funds. Current students of color are invited to opt in to this new program.

The De Puertas Abiertas program is a response to past and present realities of theological education opportunities for people of color. Austin Seminary has a long and storied history for developing pastors and leaders for the church, but as an institution that crosses centuries, our ethos does not now look as it did 100 years ago. Some of those changes reflect ingenuity, scholarship, and character, and these we laud with photographs on walls and integration into our story; other decisions and parts of our history caused harm to our communities of color.

While a student, Hierald Osorto (MDiv’18) undertook an extensive study, with the support of Seminary Archivist Kristy Sorensen, into the history of Austin Seminary’s policy and practices with regard to race. He uncovered connections of shame, perhaps foremost the racist ideas of Robert Dabney, a 19th-century Virginia theologian who migrated to Texas and taught at the University of Texas and the Austin School of Theology. Although he died before the Seminary’s founding in 1902, Dabney’s scholarship surely influenced some of the Seminary's early faculty. Yet Osorto also discovered advocacy for the education of Black Americans in the early 20th century by Austin Seminary’s third president, Thomas White Currie, and the beginning of Austin Seminary’s own racial integration, which occurred six years before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education. Even so, Osorto found that the experiences of Austin Seminary’s first Black students were complicated by the policies of the Seminary and the social tensions of the day.

In one of Austin Seminary’s more disturbing practices, early 20th-century students of Hispanic ancestry were not allowed in the classrooms but were kept separate—at desks in the halls—allowed only to gather what learning floated through open doors and windows. It was through these puertas abiertas (open doors) that students of color found the education that encouraged their call to Christian vocation.

Austin Seminary has gone through a deliberate period of reflection on its history, culminating in “Days of Memory and Hope,” honoring its first LatinX/Hispanic and African American students, faculty, and staff. Through these events, and the research leading up to them, we learned many of the ways students of color were kept on the margins of the community, even when enrolled as students. As part of a path forward and to honor the students who came before, Austin Seminary is pleased to establish De Puertas Abiertas—where students are not held outside but invited into full participation in this community of learning.