Q&A with Dr. Rahn Franklin, Jr.

With more than 14 years of experience in higher education, Dr. Rahn Franklin, Jr. says it is his life’s work to “join God in connecting people to people, the planet, and our Creator.” Meet Bethel’s new vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

By Jenny Hudalla ’15, lead communications specialist

September 09, 2021 | 10 a.m.

Rahn Franklin, Jr.

Dr. Rahn Franklin, Jr. with his wife, Rachel, and children, Jonah and Noah.

Dr. Rahn Franklin, Jr. began his role as vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion in August. Previously the director of strategic diversity initiatives at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, Franklin is an expert in strategic diversity planning, promoting multicultural student thriving, and facilitating research, scholarship, and training that equips employees for culturally intelligent teaching and service. He’s also a retired professional indoor football player, an outdoor enthusiast, and a certified facilitator of cultural intelligence. Get to know him better in this Q&A. 

Tell us a little about your background.

I'm an ethnically Nigerian, culturally southern boy who grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. I’m the second of four kids, and my parents are incredible. My dad was a Marine and a coach to my siblings and I throughout our upbringing. Because he played in a worship band, we spent a lot of time in churches throughout downtown Kansas City. My mom was a servant in our home and church, and she served as a teacher for us when we were homeschooled for a few years. She’s the one who would pull the family together for prayer and conversation in good times and in bad. This led me to be both ambitious and empathetic, resulting in undergraduate degrees in sports and fitness management and coaching, a master’s degree in counseling, and a Ph.D. in education with an emphasis on organizational leadership. My parents and their posture in the world helped me become a leader focused on serving, and that’s been a central piece of my development. 

What drew you to Bethel?

Coming to Bethel was a calling. Last summer, I found myself asking God about the connection between the world’s deepest needs and my greatest skills and passions. It’s become clear that with the world’s gaze on the Twin Cities—focused on the civil rights movement of our day—there’s a great opportunity for Bethel to serve as a beacon of what it means to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, a beacon of what it means to participate in God's redemptive work in the world. A commitment to loving God, neighbor, and self is written all over the people and the places here, and I want to be a part of it and build an even better Bethel.

In between university gigs, you spent almost nine years as a defensive back for a professional indoor football team. Tell us more about that experience and how it shaped you. 

A full decade was the vision, but life changes with kids! That experience exposed me to people and places from all over the country. I made cross-cultural connections through athletics that were critical for me, especially while living in northwest Iowa. I also learned the importance of discipline, dedication, and determination. I think those three Ds have led to what I commit myself to in life. People in diversity, equity, and inclusion work typically don’t last very long in a single space—but I was at my previous institution for 10 years. I was an athlete, I was working, I had a family, and I was pursuing a Ph.D. all at the same time. Without discipline, dedication, and determination, I couldn't have done it. In addition, the people I met along the way—including mentors, coaches, pastors, my spouse, and extended family—made all the difference. Friends from all over the world expanded my view of life, who I am, and my role in participating in God’s redemptive work.  

What inspired you to pursue the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how do you approach it now?

As a black man living in America, my life experience has led me to pursue inclusive excellence and the idea of building belonging and dignifying difference to the glory of God. This is precisely because Jesus did this, creating a home for others even while being an outsider himself. We are therefore called to embrace the diversity created in the image of God, lament the brokenness of our humanity and all of creation, and work toward reconciliation alongside God so that thriving is attainable by all—especially for “the least of these.” Again, my friends who were coming from different places in the world inspired me to expand my view of what that work actually looks like—doing the best you can with what you have right where you are. At Bethel, there are already good things rolling, and my job is to pull the efforts together, clarify our mission, vision, and goals, and create outcomes that are in alignment with what God has been doing since the beginning of time: reconciling the world back into right relationship. 

What unique obstacles and opportunities do Christ-centered universities like Bethel face in this area?

Christian institutions of higher education, like other industries, have deep rhetoric related to the value of diversity and yet have produced limited results—and that is what some might call "the hole in our gospel.” Can we talk the talk and walk the walk? Can we align our rhetoric with our results relentlessly? Can we partner with each other and pair word with deed? I believe that we can, with God’s help. 

You’ve said that your life’s work is to “join God in connecting people to people, the planet, and our Creator.” What does this look like at Bethel?

Love is at the center, and as such we are called to this work together as a community. To me, that sounds a lot like a team. Paul’s reflection in 1 Corinthians 12 similarly discusses the nature of “the body,” its many parts, and their unique gifts. Therefore, we can begin to recognize that diversity, equity, and inclusion is everybody’s work. More practically, I would encourage us to think beyond the optics of diversity, and more about the operations that characterize a healthy body that values diversity. We need to be mindful of our focus, which centers on Jesus and impacts our diversity efforts in areas of access and equity, research and scholarship, learning and diversity, and creating a multicultural, inclusive campus climate.

It’s going to take considerable commitment and fierce conversations to get us there and hold ourselves accountable. Some questions we might start with are: Who is engaged in our high-impact learning practices at Bethel? Who is in our honors programs, participates in student leadership and research, and remains engaged as alumni? What academic contributions are we making related to diversity, equity, and inclusion? Are we preparing students to engage in an increasingly interconnected, interdependent, intercultural, and pluralistic world? I believe that as we begin to function like the kingdom, where thriving is attainable for all, then the diversity of the kingdom will come.  

Imagine Bethel five years from now, as the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion progresses here. What do you see?

First, I see a community that is high in cultural intelligence, or CQ. The sum of our CQ drive, knowledge, strategy, and action suggests how we as individuals and as a university are capable of functioning effectively in spaces characterized by cultural difference. The beauty of this framework is that it's developmental and not deterministic. It’s also not dependent on race, ethnicity, or gender—and, in fact, we can all grow our CQ in order to thrive in multicultural spaces. The research shows that increased CQ predicts multicultural team effectiveness, profitability and cost savings, becoming an employer of choice, productive global assignments, speed and efficiency, high quality service to culturally diverse constituents, and expansion into culturally diverse markets.

Second, I see a community that leans into its opportunity to be a beacon of hope for the world. I see us focusing not on who’s in and who’s out, but on who is at the center. It’s perhaps a paradigm shift in which we’re all growing closer to God in and through each other. If that’s how we operate, the optics will follow. As we aim to function like the kingdom of God, we will begin looking like the kingdom of God. We will be a community centered on shalom and the life and love of Jesus.

Learn more about diversity at Bethel.

As a Christ-centered university, Bethel is committed to providing an academically excellent, faith-transforming education that prepares students to emulate the life and teachings of Jesus. At the very heart of Jesus’ message is the command to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves—and it is this command that serves as the justification and motivation for our diversity and reconciliation work.

Learn more