Whitworth University is condemning an incident in which some athletes at the institution dressed in blackface and wigs to portray themselves as the Jackson 5 for a social event. Photos were posted to social media, angering many on the campus. Larry Burnley, the university's chief diversity officer, posted a statement on Facebook that said in part: "Whitworth University is imbued by its Christ-centered mission that informs our value for diversity and our demonstrated commitment to providing students, faculty, staff and guests with an environment that is safe, welcoming and respectful of all cultures and identities …. It has been brought to the university’s attention that several students from our women’s soccer team dressed in blackface and with afro wigs in an attempt to depict the musical group the Jackson 5 at an informal event held at a local bowling alley …. The student who posted the photo has since removed it and expressed remorse for the insensitivity of the decision to dress in this manner. The administration is taking further steps to examine the developments around the students’ decision to engage in this insensitive act. It is critical that the student body and Whitworth community learn from this behavior and consider not only the real or perceived intent of such actions, but also the detrimental impact they have on members of our community, regardless of intent."
New research from the University of Chicago has found that many black and Latino college freshmen feel significant financial strain. Black and Latino freshmen at five universities in Illinois were surveyed three times during the year. At each point, about 35 percent reported having difficulty paying their bills, being upset that they did not have enough money and worrying that they would not be able to afford to complete their degree. The sample was of students who were well prepared for college. The results are the first part of a major effort to track these students and to look for approaches to improving minority student retention. More information on the research may be found here.
Some six months after one racist incident on campus, Bucknell University is dealing with another -- this time directed at a faculty member. President John Bravman said in a statement to faculty, students and staff this week that a “message containing racist, hateful language was found written on a whiteboard hanging on a faculty colleague’s office door,” and that the university is “doing all that we can to try to identify the individual(s) responsible for this disgusting display of intolerance.” Details, including the name of the targeted professor, have not been released.
This week’s incident comes a semester after three students were expelled for using racial slurs and making threats during a student radio station broadcast. Bravman said in his note that the “events of last semester made us acutely aware of the discrimination that exists on campus and in society more broadly,” and that everyone at Bucknell “must continue to work in earnest toward confronting those inequities.”
He added, “We cannot allow acts such as this to derail our efforts toward genuine and needed change. To accept anything less than a safe, inclusive community for all is to fail. I urge you to continue this fight for yourselves, for our colleagues and for our students.”
Submitted by Anonymous on August 17, 2015 - 3:00am
I teach at a member institution of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. I also happen to be gay. A friend’s early morning text alerted me to announcements from Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College, both CCCU and Mennonite colleges, that they will add sexual orientation and gender identity to their nondiscrimination hiring statements.
EMU’s nondiscrimination policy will now state: “Eastern Mennonite University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any legally protected status. As a religious institution, EMU expressly reserves its rights, its understandings of and its commitments to the historic Anabaptist identity and the teachings of Mennonite Church USA, and reserves the legal right to hire and employ individuals who support the values of the university.” The announcement adds that faculty members who are married to same-sex spouses will be hired. A similar announcement was issued by Goshen College.
The announcements surprised me. I had been aware of the vote at the recent Mennonite Church USA conference not to sanction same-sex marriages, so I had anticipated that Mennonite schools would keep the status quo. I was stunned to read about the changes.
Two days before the Supreme Court announced its decision, a group gathered at a Washington restaurant for dinner. Some of us at the dinner currently teach or have taught at CCCU institutions and one was an administrator. Gay alumni of religiously affiliated institutions also attended. We are members of different Christian denominations, and some of us were active in the evangelical organizations, Young Life and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, in former lives. Some have migrated out of conservative Christian churches into faith communities that welcome and affirm LGBTQ persons. We all have different stories but were united that evening in our hope for a good outcome from the court, and, in fact, toasted the court. Imagine ….
The contrast among CCCU institutions regarding human sexuality issues comes at a time when some Christian institutions are mounting a rearguard action regarding the teaching of evolution. At Northwest Nazarene University a professor lost his job because he affirmed that the Christian faith and evolution are compatible. Bryan College “‘clarified’ its statement of faith in ways many faculty members said made the historicity of Adam and Eve so narrow that they could no longer agree with it.” At Bethel College (Ind.) a statement was adopted that states that “Adam was created by an immediate act of God and not by process of evolution.” Faculty may teach other viewpoints, but “are not to advocate for, nor hold leadership positions” in professional organizations that have a different view.
Conservative Christian higher education views on evolution and human sexuality are not unrelated; they are of a piece because these views turn on a literal hermeneutic to interpret the Bible. Christian ethicist David Gushee, in his book Changing Our Mind, has pointed out that fashioning a Christian position on same-sex relations is a “faith/science integration issue.” New evidence emerged about the earth’s origins; new evidence is now emerging about human sexuality that now must be taken into consideration with biblical texts.
Christian higher education has accepted Copernicus and Galileo, however, Darwin remains iffy. Fortunately, institutions don’t burn people at the stake anymore, but they do fire them if they do not interpret Genesis 1 and 2 in a literal way. It is perplexing that some Christian colleges that implicitly accept evolution in their STEM programs deploy a different hermeneutic when it comes to interpreting the Bible regarding sexual ethics. Whereas Genesis 1 and 2 are interpreted as a metaphorical account of how the world came into being, these same biblical texts are interpreted literally regarding human sexuality. As Gushee suggests, the creation accounts should not be taken as “scientific self-descriptions.”
Old Testament scholar Peter Enns, in his book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins, writes, “The most faithful, Christian reading of sacred Scripture is one the recognizes Scripture as a product of times in which it was written and/or the events that took place -- not merely so, but unalterably so …. Unless one simply rejects scientific evidence (as some continue to do), adjustments to the biblical story are always necessary. The only question is what sorts of adjustments best account for the data.” It is not, as some insist, a matter of biblical authority; it is a matter of the interpretive principle one uses -- a literal/historical one or a metaphorical/symbolic one.
The literal interpretation of Scripture and the lack of attention to new evidence about human sexuality have led some Christian universities and colleges to tie themselves into knots when it comes to forming policies on LGBTQ issues. The casuistry is stunning. Take, for example, Hope College, not a CCCU institution, but a college affiliated with the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Shortly after the Supreme Court decision, Hope announced that it would extend benefits to same-sex couples. Many, including myself, rejoiced, however, Hope soon clarified (or made things murkier, depending on one’s point of view) -- no same-sex couple can be married in the Hope chapel because the RCA position is that marriage is to be between a man and a woman (Genesis again). Also, a 2011 Hope statement both affirms that RCA position and states that there will not be a student club that “promote[s] homosexuality.” It is not clear that Hope would hire an openly gay, married person. If that is the case, then benefits will never have to be offered.
One’s eyes begin to cross when trying to make sense of the situations at Baylor and Pepperdine, both affiliates of the CCCU. At Baylor, the phrase “homosexual acts” has been taken out of a student sexual misconduct statement, and the new policy states that “physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity,” but to know what “marital fidelity” means, one is referred to a 1963 Baptist position paper that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Pepperdine’s law and business schools have officially recognized LGBTQ student groups, which are limited to discussion of LGBTQ issues, networking and professional opportunities. But in 2011, Pepperdine denied official recognition for a LGBTQ undergraduate group that was perceived as an “identity group” rather than a professional networking group. The former did not fit with the Christian mission; professional networking does. I leave it to the reader to decipher the reasons why.
To navigate the tortured terrain of LGBTQ policies at Christian colleges, one must know the difference between sanctioned and unsanctioned student clubs, the difference between support and advocacy (when does a support group for LGBTQ students morph into an unacceptable advocacy group?), and whether a student handbook rule is referenced in a faculty handbook, therefore making the student rule applicable to faculty. What is crystal clear is that some CCCU institutions accept the tuition dollars of LGBTQ students, tell them that they are loved, provide small groups and support groups for them, train RAs to be more sensitive to LGBTQ issues, but will not hire them should they want to work at their alma mater. On commencement day, LGBTQ students are celebrated; the day after they will not be hired because they are openly gay and/or want to have a life partner. No longer at Eastern Mennonite and Goshen.
Christian colleges face a foreboding future. The most obvious challenge is one shared by any private institution -- namely, cost. Gordon College, a CCCU member institution, for example, is facing a $3.8 million budget deficit due to low enrollment. But if Christian higher education is perceived as dyspeptic and anachronistic, then younger millennials, fewer of whom are identifying as religious, will go elsewhere. If conservative boards of trustees, parents, donors and presidents are more concerned about the “brand,” “the optics,” then perhaps lines in the sand will be drawn and some Christian colleges will survive only because they become fortresses against the world.
At that point they will cease to be institutions of free inquiry, no longer universities. The changes at Eastern Mennonite and Goshen give me hope that more Christian colleges will be courageous, grapple with new evidence, hold on to a hermeneutic that is life giving and not life denying, and be prophetic in positions they take. I was moved to tears when I read that the student government at one Christian college passed a resolution asking that sexual orientation be included in the university’s nondiscrimination hiring policy.
Nancy Heisey, professor of biblical studies at Eastern Mennonite, stated of her university's willingness to hire gay and lesbian people in same-sex marriages, “We have a strong commitment to Christian principles, including that justice is central to the Scripture's teaching.” I am reminded of jazz great Sam Cooke’s song “A Change Is Gonna Come.” May other CCCU institutions recognize that to be Christ centered is to be justice centered and decide to be more inclusive and change, as Eastern Mennonite and Goshen have.
The author asked to be anonymous to avoid endangering employment at the college where the author teaches.
More than 80 years ago, the state of Michigan promised Native American tribes that if they would give up land Central Michigan University needed to expand, Native American students would forever attend public colleges in the state free. But as The Detroit News reported, the state has not been providing nearly enough money to keep its promise. This year the state provided only $3.8 million of the $8.5 million needed for the program. As a result, the colleges and universities that enroll Native American students lose money since they can't charge tuition, but the state doesn't provide the funds it promised, either. College and tribal officials are pushing the state to keep its promise, saying that failing to do so means that colleges have a disincentive to recruit Native American students.
The University of Texas at Austin will move a statue of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, from a prominent campus location to a history museum. At the same time, other statues of Confederate leaders will remain in their current locations, but may have plaques added to them explaining their history and providing more context. The decision seems unlikely to satisfy students and others who have been pushing for the removal of all the Confederate statues, and some traditionalists who have accused the university of being politically correct.