Conversations and actions needed to end racism, inequality
(June 18, 2020) — As we approach Juneteenth and the important anniversary of Emancipation Day in the United States, I want to thank the students and employees at Grand Canyon University who are engaging us in thoughtful discussions about the pervasiveness of inequality and racism that still exists in our society. The heightened awareness surrounding this longstanding problem as it relates to the Black community makes this a tremendous opportunity to, finally, make substantial progress in this area. And the Christian community, with its core belief that all people are created in God’s image, should be well equipped to lead this discussion.
Our Black students and employees have shared their experiences through honest conversations, and I have been moved by their stories. One employee shared a story in which his wife, who is Black, and her daughter went to look at a new house, only to be told by the homeowner as they were walking up to the house that it was no longer for rent. The employee, who is White, then inquired about the same house and was informed that it was still available. It is just one example that exemplifies the broader fears and concerns that members of the Black community are experiencing every day. Those experiences are very real and, unfortunately, still prevalent for many in the Black community.
It is heartbreaking that, in the year 2020, we are still talking about racism and situations such as this. But it is important to have those conversations. Unless people are willing to truly listen and try to understand another’s experiences and point of view … unless we have conversations in which we respect and embrace our differences in an environment that is welcoming and loving … unless we practice the word and deed of Jesus Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves … it will be difficult to move forward together as a unified society.
Our role as both a Christian organization and an institution of higher education is to help bridge that gap. Some of you have brought to our attention instances in which a handful of our 100,000-plus students have posted messages on social media that were offensive or insensitive. While we can’t discuss specific instances due to student privacy laws, our Multicultural Office is reviewing every one of those complaints and taking them very seriously.
Beyond the conversations that we are having on many levels with Black students and employees, it is imperative that those words are also balanced by actions. As a university, GCU is using this opportunity to review all of its initiatives related to inequality and racism. We’re reviewing the focus and scope of our Multicultural Office, the role of our Diversity Council, the charities we contribute to, our complaint process, student and employee conduct policies, the opportunities for students of color to have genuine conversations with our GCU Public Safety office, and initiatives that will help students, staff and faculty engage in conversations that help unify our community with topics surrounding social injustice and racism that bring about long-term change and cultural understanding. We’re investing in long-term solutions that will promote continued growth and understanding, and ultimately build bridges between people, not walls.
We also recognize the inequities that exist in the inner-city neighborhood in which GCU resides. It is an extremely diverse population filled with immigrants from places such as Mexico, Africa and South America. We probably don’t do enough to highlight some of our efforts to address those inequalities:
- Free tutoring for any K-12 student who needs academic assistance to ensure they not only graduate from high school but can see a future for themselves that includes a college education. More than 3,000 students at 150 K-12 schools have taken advantage of this opportunity in the past six years, accounting for more than 40,000 visits and 100,000 additional hours of study.
- A Students Inspiring Students scholarship program that, in the last five years, has provided more than 300 full-tuition scholarships to low-income students who otherwise may not have been able to afford college. More than 90% of those scholarship recipients are people of color, not because it is a criteria in the application process but simply because it is a reflection of the demographics of the neighborhoods in which we reside.
- Assisting homeowners through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity in which more than $3 million has been raised and 25,000 volunteer hours have contributed to renovate more than 300 homes in our community. As a result, those homeowners have seen the value of their homes rise more than 300% in the 85017 zip code since 2011.
- Protecting our neighborhood residents through an 11-year, $2.2 million partnership with the City of Phoenix to make the neighborhoods surrounding GCU safer.
- Providing organic food from GCU’s urban farm to neighborhood refugee populations and, in the future, locally-owned restaurants.
- Creating jobs through the launch of 10 GCU business enterprises that employ students and residents in our community.
- And serving hundreds of volunteer hours every week at agencies such as the St. Vincent de Paul homeless shelter, Phoenix Rescue Mission and Phoenix Dream Center.
Those are real programs that are creating opportunities and having a direct impact on people in our diverse community. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do more. And, with your help, we will.
President, Grand Canyon University