I first met Victor Akioyame when we worked together in the student affairs office at a small liberal arts university in California. We became close friends due to our shared interests and passion for diversity, inclusion, and conversations on spirituality. Victor is an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention and works as a student life professional at Vanguard University (VU) in Costa Mesa, California, where he ministers to students, staff, and faculty.
In his work, Akioyame has witnessed how spiritual practices can build healthy communities, which are important in a democracy. I reached out to him to see how the resources developed by the Practicing Democracy Project (PDP) could support his goals.
He primarily oversees programming related to residential life and is constantly seeking new ways to build bridges and overcome cultural divides in the living spaces. Recent changes in student demographics at VU have made this focus more important than ever, as there has been a tremendous rise in the enrollment of students of color, first generation students, and students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Akioyame believes the work he does is essential not only to the students' living together well in college but to their ability to contribute positively in diverse settings after graduation.
Akioyame identified for me the values that guide his work: openness, humility, and respect for others. “The democratic value of working for the common good is an essential part to the work we do in students’ spiritual development," he explained. "For us, as Christians striving to follow the example of Jesus Christ, we see that our lives should be based on practices of humility and service to others.” He added: "Being an African American, I realize that there have been specific challenges placed on our community, and knowing this from my own experience causes me to want to help other communities who are being challenged. For me, this comes from my own democratic and spiritual commitments.”
I have noticed how Akioyame's work supports advocacy, community engagement, and the practice of loving those who are “different.” He begins each year with his leadership team by emphasizing the importance of compassionate listening. This focus correlates to some of the practices in the "Practicing Democracy at Home" program guide such "Listen with Respect" and "Have Check-ins at Dinner." He has also found support and ideas from some of the websites and organizations and spiritual practices in the "Conversations" topic.
Most of all, the Civility topic has provided quotes, conversation guides, videos, and practices to use with students. Akioyame shared what happened when he invited people to participate in "Being the First to Extend Greeting.” He feels this simple practice helps build a vital foundation preceding difficult conversations on race, class, gender, and the national political climate “Practices like this help me to observe my own judgments about others and instead to see them as persons with value. When I do this, it helps me approach them with genuine curiosity, which opens the door for real relationship and connection.”