Alumni Profiles Series: Love Sechrest
Love Sechrest is Dean of Faculty, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Associate Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. Prior to entering theological education she functioned as chief information officer of an $800 million company within Lockheed Martin. She received her B.S. in Sociology and Computer Science and her Ph.D. in Religion from Duke. She studies Womanist and African American biblical interpretation, critical race theory, and New Testament ethics. She is the author of A Former Jew: Paul and the Dialectics of Race (T&T Clark), lead editor of Can “White” People be Saved? Triangulating Race, Theology and Mission (InterVarsity), and the forthcoming book Race and Rhyme: Race Relations and the New Testament Today (Eerdmans).
You went to Duke both as an undergraduate and a graduate student. What made you choose Duke the first time?
I was an undergraduate in the early 1980s. Duke had not been actively recruiting Black students for very long but was just beginning to do so aggressively. I was invited to attend a Black Student Recruitment weekend, which was the first time I saw the campus. It was incredibly beautiful and looked like a college ought to look, just like I had envisioned. When we met with the Black students on campus, they challenged us to join them. This was an invitation to be involved at the center of the action of college integration—to answer a real call to ministry.
What brought you back to Duke for your Ph.D. in religious studies?
I earned my M.Div. at an evangelical seminary, and while Duke wasn’t evangelical it was evangelical-friendly. Richard Hays had just published A Moral Vision of the New Testament, and high-achieving evangelicals were eager to study with him. Of course, then I got to Duke and although I originally came to study with Dr. Hays, I met Joel Marcus. We connected through his interest in early Jewish-Gentile and later Jewish-Christian relations, and my interest in ethnicity and race in early Judaism and early Christianity. I outlined a dissertation connecting Jew-Gentile relations in the New Testament to contemporary race relations, and Joel was eager to explore the topic with me!
How did you discover you wanted to be involved in higher education administration?
I worked in the aerospace industry (for General Electric and Lockheed Martin) for over a decade before I returned to graduate school for my M.Div. By the end of my time at Fuller Theological Seminary (my first teaching job after my doctorate) it became clear that I needed an opportunity where I could apply my strong leadership and managerial skills. Then an opportunity to serve on the administration of Columbia Theological Seminary opened up, and it was the perfect fit for what I wanted to do.
How have you helped cultivate equity and diversity at Columbia Theological Seminary?
I am the second African American Vice President in CTS’s history. We have been committed to bringing diversity to CTS: national diversity, racial diversity, and LGBTQ inclusion. We’ve had a lot of “generational turnover” with our retiring teaching faculty at Columbia and we made good use of our need to hire to bring in more diverse voices. Every year all professors attend some formal diversity training, and in our yearly performance reviews we discuss implementation of our training in our teaching.
Our current central equity and diversity initiative is “The Becoming Project.” It began with a Transformative Community Conversation with consultant David Hooker where we contrast old narratives about the kind of institution we are with emerging narratives about who we want to become. The Implementation Task force takes this work to a new level by examining policies and practices to make them more equitable. Second, we made a commitment to cover tuition and fees for African American students who are admitted to Columbia. Our single most effective intervention was to hire an ombudsperson [a person who mediates disputes between faculty members and students] who’s given us the tools to work together, solve conflicts, and listen to opposing viewpoints. We’ve recruited from both mainline and evangelical spaces at CTS, so a wider range of theological viewpoints is represented. Part of our mission is to have real theological diversity in our student body while also ensuring that LGBTQ students are welcomed, safe, and affirmed.
What are you writing right now?
I just completed a manuscript for a new book Race and Rhyme: Race Relations and the New Testament Today. Being an administrator means I don’t have as much time for research projects, but I’m learning to make room for this life-giving work, especially over the summer. I got a lot of energy to work last summer when the BLM protests were beginning in earnest, and I’ve been able to rebuild daily or weekly rhythms of writing.
What advice to you have for graduate students?
Don’t be afraid to change interests and pursue interests across disciplines. I was a professor for years before I found my way into administration. If you are losing interest in your work, it’s okay to look for opportunities outside your lane.
You really have time for two or three careers in your life. I worked in aerospace engineering, then I was a professor, and now I am in administration. It takes courage to reinvent yourself.
Ph.D. candidate, Religion
Laura Robinson is a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies with a focus on New Testament Studies at Duke. She is also the campus minister and New Testament instructor at Ferrum College. During 2020-21, she served as a Graduate Administrative Intern with Duke Graduate School.