“If you were born to different parents in a different country with a different faith structure, do you think you’d still believe these absolute truths that you hold to so tightly?”
Every semester, this provocative question is the first thing that Dr. Heather Thompson Day asks her communications students at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado—one of the nation’s most politically conservative schools. Day, a biracial mother of three and associate professor, said she finds most students quickly answer “no.”
Over the course of her class, they unpack what it means that beliefs—including cultural views on race and justice—are derived from the experiences of formative years. “By nature, some of what one believes is wrong and some of that’s right,” Day said. “How does a student now step back and sift and say, ‘OK, what of this am I going to take with me long after I leave my parents’ house?’”
As an evangelical Christian, Day has developed unconventional means to mentor and disciple students. To broaden their horizons, the professor exposes her overwhelmingly White classes to diverse religious beliefs and voices of color, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on “The Danger of a Single Story.”
“I think God has a high calling to use this generation,” Day said. “Today, young people are largely disappearing from church pews, and that’s on us because our messages are no longer connecting. This God whom we worship is so vast—not just in knowledge, but in emotion. How do I make Him accessible to the everyday person?”
The daughter of a White mother and a Black father with African American and Caribbean ancestry, Day’s early years were spent in the shadow of New York theaters. Her father performed in Broadway hits like “Jesus Christ Superstar” during the 1970s. Then his conversion to Christianity led him to hit the road and, for years, make a living performing Bible stories like Jonah’s as one-man shows. No sermon, just story.
It’s no wonder that Day views dramatic narrative as the element most lacking in the public witness of Christ followers—and she is showing how to do it on an innovative stage: Twitter. Her tweets on hot topics have gone massively viral. On June 19, her thread about how racism and her natural hair came up during a thesis dissertation quickly attained nearly half a million interactions.
A woman at my PhD defense said “So are you saying racism is STILL so bad it impacts learning environments?”
I said: Well, I, a black student, straightened my hair before coming today. I knew even my natural hair would change how you, my educator, perceived me”
— Heather Thompson Day (@HeatherTDay) June 19, 2020
Having earned three degrees in communications, her success is born of deep intention. “Every viral tweet I have ever had has been a story,” said Day.
“I love that Twitter forces you to be as simple as possible. The human brain can only retain about 30 seconds worth of information at a time. So I love thinking: How do I take a 30-minute sermon and say it in a tweet?”
When taking on a minefield issue like sexual harassment, her pithy vignettes delivered in 280 characters embody human dignity with personality and humor—a lesson she tries to impart to students every day.
When I was 19 my boss said I should be a phone sex operator & laughed.
I said “I don’t get it”
He said “it’s a joke”
I said “explain it to me”
& that’s how I learned that once sexual harrassers have to explain why their inappropriate jokes are funny, they stop laughing.
— Heather Thompson Day (@HeatherTDay) November 8, 2019
“Loving thy neighbor means to love people who are totally different than you,” she said. “It’s important to do that in a way that validates a person as equal, not as lesser than yourself.”
The outspoken social media influencer may seem an unlikely fit for a university that has hosted Trump-centric CPAC simulcast events and annually sends a contingent to the March for Life.
However, Day believes her students’ pro-life views encompass moral matters beyond anti-abortion sentiment. “These are Republicans—or so they think, right?” she said. “When I talk to my students, their idea of conservatism is not the same as what their parents had. For instance, it’s encouraging to me to hear an emphasis on the dignity that is due immigrants and refugees.”
In the big picture, Day says the audacity of Generation Z gives her hope.
“When I was 20 years old, I thought I had to get a Ph.D. before anyone would ever listen to me. This generation doesn’t see things that way. It’s a participatory culture that believes that their voice needs to be heard and it matters. They’re not afraid to speak and stand up.”
Learn more at HeatherThompsonDay.com and follow her @HeatherTDay.