We wanted to take a moment to address Grand Canyon University’s decision to cancel a speaking engagement on campus by Ben Shapiro that had been scheduled by one of our student clubs.
We believe in many of the things that Ben Shapiro speaks about and stands for, including his support for ideals that grow out of traditional Judeo-Christian values and his belief in a free market economy. Our decision to cancel Shapiro’s speaking engagement is not a reflection of his ideologies or the values he represents, but rather a desire to focus on opportunities that bring people together.
To understand that decision, one has to first understand the University’s history and the culture that has been created on our campus.
As a private interdenominational Christian institution, Grand Canyon University’s core beliefs are rooted in biblical truths and outlined in our Doctrinal Statement and Ethical Positions Statement. These foundational documents, inspired in large part by the Nicene Creed, articulate our commitment to the full inspiration of Scripture and provide clarity, unity and alignment across the University on matters of ethics and morality.
GCU has a very unique financial model that was built 10 years ago and allowed us to access funds from the public markets to invest in a hybrid campus that has since grown to more than 20,000 students on our Phoenix campus, with more than 75,000 working adult students studying online. That model has allowed us to make private Christian education affordable to all socio-economic classes of Americans while freezing tuition costs on our campus for 11 straight years. That has resulted in a very diverse student body on our campus – 28% Hispanic, 7% African-American, 47% people of color – that represent all socio-economic sectors of America.
If you ask students what the key differentiators are that made them choose GCU, their responses will center around our Christian mission and the strength of our campus culture. It has fostered a community in which students from all sectors of society feel welcomed in an environment where they can find their purpose while attending GCU. It’s a culture in which:
- Between 5,000-7,000 students voluntarily attend Chapel service every Monday morning in GCU Arena.
- More than 1,500 students attend The Gathering worship services on Tuesday evenings.
- Students participate in more than 150 weekly student-led Life Group sessions, which offer a place to form relationships, build community and grow spiritually through studying the Bible.
- Approximately 300 GCU students participate in 25 global mission trips each year to destinations such as Thailand, South Africa, Cambodia, Mexico and India to expand the Kingdom and spread the message of Jesus Christ.
- In our Phoenix community, students participate in outreach efforts at homeless shelters, senior centers, veterans homes, weekly youth ministries in the park, and shelters that aid the victims of sex trafficking, among others.
- GCU students and staff have contributed nearly 20,000 volunteer hours in a partnership with Habitat for Humanity that has resulted in the renovation of more than 200 homes in GCU’s inner-city neighborhood.
- Roughly 1,200 GCU students provide free academic assistance and mentoring to students from more than 130 K-12 schools through the University’s Learning Lounge program.
In short, it has created a unique and united community where – no matter their political differences – people come together as one to make a difference in the world around them. Jesus Christ taught us that Christians should live as the salt and light of the world by loving our neighbors as ourselves, and that is happening here in real and tangible ways.
Today, we live in a very divided America. The current high volume of rhetoric has not led to community-building or problem-solving. Grand Canyon University, rather than engage in this type of rhetoric, has instead worked to bring people together and build partnerships to renovate our inner-city community. We’re doing that through a five-point plan that has 1) created 10,000 jobs on campus, 2) placed business enterprises in our community that provide jobs for GCU graduates, students and residents of our neighborhood, 3) reduced crime in our neighborhood through a $1.6 million partnership with Phoenix Police to pay for officers’ overtime, 4) increased home values 200% in our zip code in the past seven years, in part due to our partnership with Habitat for Humanity that has thus far renovated more than 200 homes, and 5) provided academic assistance and full-tuition scholarship opportunities to students from more than 130 K-12 schools in our community.
As a university, we encourage thoughtful discussions and rational dialogue in our classrooms about the issues affecting our society, and we encourage students to put greater emphasis on actions that produce positive change in our society. By working together, we have shown that real partnerships can create real programs that produce real results in our community. We hope it is a model that is emulated by others and builds strong communities where people can live and prosper in harmony, no matter their differences.
Based on the response we have received from some within the Grand Canyon community regarding the decision involving such high-profile speakers as Ben Shapiro, we have obviously disappointed and offended some of you. We know that if we had made a different decision, we would have disappointed and offended others within the same community. It was not our intent to disappoint or offend anyone. It was, rather, to use our position as a Christian university to bring unity to a community that sits amidst a country that is extremely divided and can’t seem to find a path forward toward unity.
If you look at America’s history, the Church has been at its best when it has worked to achieve the kind of peace that Jesus commended: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9, ESV). Making peace in a way that honors Christ is something we will continue to try to do.