President Luxton: Andrews Stands for Anti-Racism

   Diversity: Blog | Posted on June 19, 2020

Juneteenth (also known as June 19th), 2020

Friends,

Over the past few weeks I have been asked many times how the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Armaud Arbery and now Rayshard Brooks, along with the protests that have rapidly spread in response to these killings around the United States and the world, have also impacted us at Andrews University.

On a personal level I have been outraged by the dispassionate and abusive use of authority and power that has resulted in the senseless killings of these three, now four Black lives. And yet strangely the phrase Black Lives Matter continues to cause debate over what this really means or implies. But this is not a time for debate, this is not a time for excuses, prevarications or words that are forged today and forgotten tomorrow. I’m convinced that we, corporately, as a nation and as a community, have a problem. Racism, here in the U.S. and wherever else it rears its head, directly leads to the sad repetition and heartache of such indefensible actions toward Black individuals in our community. As a result, I believe that such systemic racism can only be resolved by corporate and intentional action.

Andrews University stands for anti-racism.

I know we do not get everything right and for that I am sorry. Each one of us, and Andrews University, needs to continue to focus on doing better.

However at the same time, I find myself greatly encouraged by the unparalleled level of instinctive and heartfelt response that I’ve seen from every corner of our campus community to recent events. I believe that these responses speak to Andrews University’s unified and passionate commitment to these issues.

I’d like to share some of those statements and responses at length here.

There were two major statements released just over two weeks ago by Campus Ministries, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion and our Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.

joint statement released on May 25 by our vice president for Diversity & Inclusion, Michael Nixon, and our University chaplain, José Bourget, was titled “Righteousness, Justice More Powerful Than Hatred.” It was a statement that detailed a response of anger and disappointment to these unnecessary recent deaths. These colleagues noted that we must submit that anger about these deeply unjust deaths to God and actively seek His righteousness and His judgement.

Additionally, a joint statement, “No Excuses,” released by our Seminary dean, Jiri Moskala, and associate dean, Teresa Reeve, was released that same day. That statement grieved and deplored the truly unfair deaths of George Floyd and others. These deaths, our Seminary deans noted, are “evidence (of) the perpetuation of the long and deeply grounded history of racial injustice in North America. Every individual on this earth is created in the image of God and is our neighbor whom we are commanded to treat with love and respect.”

Our Department of Graduate Psychology & Counseling sent a joint letter to each of their students noting that “the Department of Graduate Psychology & Counseling, (wants) to channel our grief, hurt, anger, outrage, and pain into action...we are committed to use our expertise and knowledge within the field to educate individuals and to challenge institutions and society-at-large to dismantle systemic racism and replace it with systems that are equitable and inclusive.”

My colleague, Frances Faehner, our vice president for Campus & Student Life, wrote directly to our students, noting that Andrews University is “very concerned about how our national history of racism and inequality affects our students' emotional and spiritual health. We especially encourage you to take care of your spiritual, mental and emotional health during these troubling times.” She offered students the opportunity to connect with chaplains and counselors by text, in Zoom chats, as well as confidential counseling for those students who need extra support and care at these times of protest, fear and anger.

In an Instagram post from our student chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students, those students wrote: “As architecture students, we learn to create places as solutions to problems that the world faces. We encourage you all to create safe places for people to feel comfort & hope in this time of need. It is our hope & prayer that the places we create, architecture students or not, will draw us all together in fellowship, & not in a war against one another.”

Last week, our physics and other STEM professors paused their research and teaching for a day as part of a national movement of scientists and teachers who were galvanized by recent events and participated in a one-day strike to reflect and respond to continued reports that minority researchers feel marginalized and disrespected, to acknowledge and begin to effectively address and ultimately end racism in the field of science.

Our School of Social Work offered a virtual vigil for Arbery, Taylor and Floyd, which was open to alumni across the country, current students and local partner organizations who gathered together online to remember, discuss action and pray together.

In a formal statement issued by the School of Social Work, the faculty of that school noted that “as Christians, we know God cares deeply for, and calls His people to care for those who are marginalized, oppressed, and mistreated. We look to the life and example of Jesus, who sought to address institutional and social oppression. Christians have a special obligation to identify and work to end violence and oppression in all its forms, even while knowing that the work will continue past our own lifetimes...those with privilege must stand in solidarity with the oppressed and mistreated.”

You may have also heard or read about a Peace Walk held in Berrien Springs a week ago this past Sunday, which was intended to express solidarity with those who are victims of police violence and called for an end to systemic injustices against the Black community. The Peace Walk was organized by Berrien Springs High School teachers and students. More than 1,000 walked together on Sunday, including young families with kids in wagons and strollers, law enforcement officials from across the county, and several hundred Andrews employees and students.

One of our math professors, Anthony Bosman, joined in on the Peace Walk this past Sunday, and I was touched by his social media post a day after the event. He wrote that “there were so many transformative moments...one moment is still lingering with me: in the chanting, we moved from ‘Black Lives Matter’ to ‘Black Students Matter.’ That hit me hard and has me seriously reflecting on how I can better make my classroom a haven where students of color can feel respected and valued, as all students should be.”

As I’ve read and thought about these statements and actions of our University community, along with many others I’ve not shared here, I realize the next question is a profound, urgent one:

But as we intentionally plan to turn words into action, what does this mean to Andrews University? How can we embrace and pursue truly meaningful action and lasting change in response to these tragic and awful deaths?

The foundation of our response, and an articulation of our overall ethic as an Adventist Christian community, is contained in a video we released last week.

In that video, I talked about the idea of being “World Changers for a changing world.” Here are the words I share at the video’s beginning:

“We can’t deny it. The world we live in will never be the same. But as our world changes, we also change here at Andrews University, because that’s what World Changers do.”

I believe these words are particularly relevant for our urgent and pain-filled current context, a current context where not only has COVID-19 brought a sense of community pain to us all but hatred and systemic racism have continued to seek to exert power and control over our disadvantaged and marginalized neighbors. And so how do we change to embrace and effectively respond to this current chapter of pain when it comes to racism?

First of all, we are taking up the challenge to institute a George Floyd Scholar program, beginning fall semester 2020, which will give a full scholarship to an African American student each year (valid for up to five years of study for each Scholar).

The recipient of this scholarship will be Pell eligible and will show her or his active engagement in creating hope and positive change in the community. At Andrews University, we want to use this investment in our students as a way to honor, seek and support future World Changers. In the next few weeks, we’ll share information on how students can apply for this scholarship, and how those who wish to donate to this new scholarship program can do so.

Also, as World Changers committed to the possibility of a world dedicated to justice and equality, Andrews University makes the following institutional commitments to all of our campus community both here in Berrien Springs and around the world, commitments that are driven by the values of God’s Kingdom.

  1. We will only be satisfied when Andrews University is a safe place for all and we will keep working until we ultimately reach that end.
  2. We commit to educating our Andrews University community on how to recognize their own unconscious bias, and how to listen openly to others.
  3. We will inspire our Andrews University graduates, our World Changers, to passionately model justice and equity in their own dealings and lead others with integrity, using power to uplift and inspire hope.
    In total we are fully committed to becoming a truly anti-racist institution. We are committed to seek a world influenced by God’s kingdom, a world where humility, compassion and care are central.

Once again, these are unfortunately truly heartbreaking times in our world, times that are filled with anger and fear.

But I’m convinced that these can also be times of hope, and I believe that the World Changers who study and are inspired at Andrews University can and will articulate and pursue that hope for our entire world, as defined by our mission and purpose.

May God bless that journey as together we seek to impact a world that so desperately needs God’s answers, power and justice, now more than ever.

Andrea Luxton
President
 

P.S. If you’d like to join Andrews University on this journey of reflection and commitment to anti-racism, my colleague Michael Nixon, along with Tracy-Jean Khonje, Adair Kibble, Joffre St Hilaire, Kendra Arsenault, Brandon Shin,  Adoniah Simon, Lisa Kamilazi, Nikitha Nelapudi and Emerald Norman and several other students, faculty and staff have developed a set of resources for further reading on this topic. I’d like to share a few articles and websites from those recommendations below.

You’ll also find the complete set of anti-racism resources on our Andrews University Diversity website:



Contact:
   Michael Nixon