(August 22, 2017) – GCU welcomes discussion of sensitive matters on its campus as part of the academic and spiritual formation of its students. In times of peace, well-intentioned citizens may wisely hold their tongues in order to avoid unnecessary offense and minimize potential conflict. But times of extraordinary turbulence and unrest cannot be met with silence, especially when a failure to speak exacerbates tensions and opens the door to further injustice. Racial unrest, ethnic strife, and cultural turmoil nationally and locally have escalated to the point that silence is no longer prudent or possible.
One way in which the University has attempted to further the discussion of these sensitive issues is through a series of Ministry Forums held on campus last year to discuss social justice issues prevalent in our society. We understand that it is risky to have these discussions in a public forum, however, we believe it is critical to continue the dialogue on these issues as civil discourse should be a central component of any university campus. We held regular social justice forums on our campus last year and we will continue these discussions this year on a monthly basis, particularly given the current climate in our country and the need to engage in more constructive dialogue to understand various perspectives.
Almost one year ago, on September 19, 2016, one of the GCU hosted Ministry Forums, titled “God’s Concern for the Poor: What’s Missing in Social Justice?,” consisted of a 75-minute discussion on sensitive issues facing our country with a focus on justice from a Biblical perspective and how it can best be applied in modern society. The panel that was leading this discussion consisted of two African-American professors and two Caucasian professors. It was brought to our attention last week by local leaders of Black Lives Matter that a statement was made which was completely inappropriate and for that, the University apologizes. Specifically, one of the African-American professors stated the following in response to a question from the audience about Black Lives Matter:
“The Black Lives Matter movement, we can’t even talk about it as the Black Lives Matter movement because it is not a monolith, that is, it does not look the same all across the board. You have folks who claim to participate in that on one side that are very thoughtful about the matter. They are very gracious and discerning and conversationally, dynamically dialoguing about the issue. They’re wanting to hear what somebody else has to say about it. And then you have people on the opposite extreme of that that frankly should be hung. And, yes, I did say that on video. They are saying things that are not helpful to any way, shape or form of human dignity or flourishing. That is not helpful to any conversation. That kind of rhetoric is not helpful to any conversation. And that’s what I mean by they should be hung. That’s not to say that I’m joining the rhetoric. But I’m saying that is not contributing to the conversation is what I mean by that. And then you have everybody in between. And so, when we talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, you have some who would support it, but what is it that you are supporting? I support facets of it. …”
The reprehensible rhetoric in this statement is unacceptable and the University condemns it in the strongest terms. Leaders of the College that hosted this forum were aware of this offensive language at the time it was made and addressed it with the professor at the conclusion of the event. However, leaders within the College did not escalate the matter to University executives who were unaware of this incident until last week. Upon learning of this incident, and learning that a video replay of the forum had been posted online since the time of the forum, University executives immediately removed the video and, within 48 hours, met with local leaders of Black Lives Matter to apologize, assure them that this rhetoric does not reflect the actions or beliefs of the University as a whole, and to discuss this situation more fully.
The University wants to be clear that the professor’s rhetoric in no way reflects the heart of this University or its dedicated students, faculty and staff. The University’s President is leading an investigation into this incident and has met with the professor who made these statements, as well as the Dean of the College, who both agree it was completely inappropriate and who have issued an apology, in their own words, that can be viewed here. We have placed this professor on administrative leave until at least the end of the first semester while the University completes its investigation.
As part of the University’s investigation so far, we have discovered that, prior to removing the video, it had been viewed 199 times and 85 individuals were present at the forum. As we continue our investigation, we will interview students who have attended this professor’s classes and students and guests who attended the forum to gain their perspective on this professor and this incident and why it was not brought to the attention of University executives sooner. In order to be completely transparent, a copy of the video replay is available here, and the discussion at issue begins at approximately 1:02:00. However, we suggest that the entire video be reviewed to understand the vital conversations that were occurring during this forum.
While we issue this statement as a means of clarifying our position on race and ethnicity in light of our Christian mission and identity, a statement alone will not suffice. There must be no distance between what we say and what we do. The University has an unprecedented commitment to our community that is expressed on a daily basis through a myriad of programs that reflect the University’s true spirit. One terrible statement will not define this University or divert us from our dedicated commitment to our Christian values, and the principle of loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Of that we will not be deterred. God has blessed this University so that we can be a blessing to others. We will continue to pour ourselves into the diverse community surrounding our campus through the following programs that are transforming this neighborhood on a daily basis:
- The GCU Learning Lounge is open daily from 3 pm to 8 pm to provide free one-on-one academic assistance to K-12 students in our neighborhood. To date, 2,165 K-12 students across 63 local schools have received 48,573 hours of free academic assistance from more than 1,000 GCU students.
- Our partnership with Habitat for Humanity has resulted in 281 repairs for 123 families. In total, our goal is to rehabilitate 800 homes in our community through this comprehensive partnership. In a recent study, housing values were up 30% in our neighborhood on a year-over-year basis.
- The Students Inspiring Students Scholarship Program is starting its second year of existence in which 100 local high school students per year have received full-tuition scholarships to attend GCU. Of these students, 92% are students of color and many are first generation college goers who never believed they would have the opportunity to attend college. Our goal is to raise enough funds to provide 200 full-tuition scholarships per year with a total of 800 total students attending each academic year under this program.
- We are in the third year of a partnership with Sigma Pi Phi Boule fraternity to provide student scholarships, mentoring and professional speaker forums for our students.
- We have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 5 years into a crime safety initiative that has resulted in a significant reduction in crime in our neighborhood.
- Since 2004, when the University was near bankruptcy, we have created over 10,000 full, part-time, and student worker jobs, with many of these positions filled by a diverse community from the Phoenix metropolitan area. Of those who specified, 33% of GCU full-time and part-time employees are people of color.
- We have created 10 businesses to date, with several more in development, that are located on our campus or in our neighborhood that are creating jobs and generating a positive economic impact for our community.
- Finally, the University sends hundreds of faculty and student volunteers to help in important not-for-profit agencies like The Phoenix Dream Center, St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Shelter, Phoenix Rescue Mission, and local schools to assist with these important initiatives to help the community.
Additional information regarding these initiatives is available through this video.
We are also proud of the diverse community of students who attend our University. On GCU’s Phoenix campus, of those who specified, 47% of our traditional student body are people of color, with approximately 400 Dream Act students. All of these students contribute to our rich, diverse campus community where learners can openly discuss and debate to gain understanding. We also collect data on the perception of our students and their experience on this campus which indicate that Black/African-American student satisfaction (92.2%) is higher than any other racial or ethnic group on campus. GCU’s Diversity Council, led by Dr. Antoinette Farmer-Thompson, and the student-led Diversity Speaks group, regularly evaluates our progress toward the following objectives:
- Fostering a campus climate that promotes diversity and embraces tolerance and understanding;
- Encouraging the continued recruitment, retention and success of a diverse community of students, faculty and staff;
- Facilitating awareness and appreciation of the University’s diversity efforts; and
- Assessing the University’s diversity and recommending changes, as necessary, based upon the analytical data.
As a missional institution, GCU welcomes students from all walks of life which has contributed to a growing diversity within our population. As our diversity statement makes clear: Our diversity encompasses a multitude of dimensions, including age, disability, national origin, race, color, religion, gender, veteran status, and more. We believe that all people, without exception, bear the image of God and have been designed to reflect His love and creativity.
In sum, GCU strives to emulate the behavior of Christ in order to experience the Kingdom of God as described in Matthew 11. Advancing the Kingdom is not simply a matter of sharing ideals. Dialogue is helpful, but actions must speak as loudly as our words. The power and presence of God can still change communities in our day, just as it did in Jesus’ days of ministry, when the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the sick were cleansed, the deaf began to hear, and the poor had good news proclaimed to them. We are grateful for this opportunity to explain who we are and what we’re about, and would welcome those who are thoughtful about the needs of others to join us in putting those beliefs and convictions into positive action.