For Biola to take actionable steps towards racial justice and education on campus.
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To Dr. Barry Corey, President of Biola University, and the Biola University Board of Trustees:
We are writing this letter in response to the statement released by Dr. Corey on June 4th, 2020 regarding the profoundly deep-seated racial injustices that have once again risen to the forefront of our national discussion. We are a group of predominantly white or white-passing alumni, which means that we do not fully represent the diversity that the University should strive to see in their alumni body. However, as a product of Biola, we have a collective moral responsibility to current and future students to speak up about the University’s response to the grievous murder of George Floyd and the resulting protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
While we are glad that Biola has officially taken a public position, we believe it is inexcusable — particularly given Biola’s history of inadequately addressing racist incidents on campus — for the University to have taken nine days to reach out to its diverse student body with a message of solidarity.
We were also surprised and distressed to see that your statement referred only to the “brutal and senseless death” of George Floyd. This was not merely a death. It was a murder, committed openly and charged accordingly, by members of the Minneapolis Police Department. We must call it what it is in order to mourn it properly, just as we mourn the murder of Breonna Taylor at the hands of the Louisville Metro Police Department, and just as we mourn the losses of Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Atatiana Jefferson, Tony McDade, Tamir Rice, and the many Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) who have been murdered at the hands of police departments, about which Biola has never issued statements.
Dr. Corey, your statement centers on the ninth chapter of the book of Nehemiah, in which the Israelites “confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors” (9:2) and express what you describe as their “need to experience forgiveness for their sins and their need to repent for the sins of the past.” When you state that this verse has something to say “to me, to us,” you emphasize those who have sinned rather than those who have been hurt by the sin of racism. In this way, even if you do not intend to, you center the experiences of white students, staff, and faculty at Biola rather than extending your compassion to Biola’s students, staff, and faculty of color.
By elevating Nehemiah’s ninth chapter, you sidestep the rest of Nehemiah’s story. Nehemiah and the Israelites were only able to collectively repent of their sins after they actively worked to rebuild that which was destroyed. When Nehemiah first heard that Jerusalem was in ruins, he “sat down and wept”; he “mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (1:4). But he didn’t stop at mourning. Out of righteous grief, Nehemiah risked both his job and his life by asking the King for leave to rebuild the city. With financial support and resources from the King, rulers of the land, politicians, priests, city residents, and even perfume makers, Nehemiah and the Israelites worked together to restore justice, both physically (3:1-2) and spiritually (8:2-3).
Nehemiah’s story begins and ends with weeping. As you weep and repent, where do you see yourself in Nehemiah’s story? As you only cite the ninth chapter of Nehemiah, we are concerned that you see Biola’s work to secure justice for our Black brothers and sisters at the University as completed with your statement.
Public confession and repentance is not enough — faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Like Nehemiah, we might risk our jobs, or even our lives (2:5); we may endure tarnished reputations, taunts, and dangerous threats from people outside this restorative work (6:1-12); and we will need to upend old practices to make practical amends for our sins (5:10-11).
Bringing the Kingdom of God to earth is neither easy nor safe. But should we walk in fear of these threats, or “should [we] walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of [our] enemies?” (5:9). In following the way of Christ, we follow him in dikaiosynē, the Greek word that translates as both righteousness and justice. Our Black brothers and sisters are calling for justice — do you hear them? We are calling for our alma mater to seek the righteousness of God by defending those who are oppressed (Isa. 1:17). If you will not listen to us, a group of predominantly white alumni, how can we trust you will listen to our Black students and alumni?
In writing this letter, we have been reflecting on Biola’s recently released theological statement on diversity, “Unity Amidst Diversity,” which includes the following excerpt from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
What Biola’s statement does not include is the rest of Dr. King’s letter, which reprimands his audience of white clergymen that their response to the activism of the Birmingham campaign sorely lacked in depth:
“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”
We would like to believe that Biola, too, does not wish to issue words of comfort without looking with clear eyes at how this University has failed to create an environment in which its students of color can flourish. However, it is difficult to trust that Biola is serious about participating in the work of creating a thriving, just, and peaceful community for its students when the University’s administration remained silent about the prayer vigil on December 8th, 2014 for Black victims of police brutality, which was sabotaged by repeated instances of theft. It is difficult to believe that Biola is committed to effecting change on its campus when lasting change did not result from the incident on April 14th, 2016 in which a swastika was drawn over the door of a Black student. Further, it is unreasonable to ask students to continue to place their faith in a University that took over two weeks to respond to the heinous incident this February in which posters of Black leaders in a dorm were vandalized with the N-word.
In your response to these and other histories of racist incidents, in your recent delay to comment on the murder of George Floyd and unwillingness to affirm that Black lives matter, you have sinned in your failure to defend the oppressed (Prov. 31:9, Isa. 1:17). By enabling the status quo to remain unchanged, you have sinned in allowing faith to be accompanied by no fruit (James 2:14-26, Matt. 7:15-20). It is because we believe in what Biola can be by the best we experienced during our time as students, and because we desire to spur Biola on to love and good deeds, that we hold you accountable for the patterns of sin displayed here (Gal. 6:1). Dr. Corey, you emphasize in your statement the importance of practicing Christian solidarity. If we are to truly stand together as sisters and brothers in Christ, we must act to rectify the injustices endured by our Black sisters and brothers.
We honor the work done by leaders of color on Biola’s campus, particularly the recent development of the IDSP by Chief Diversity Officer Tamra Malone, and are grateful for the progress that’s already been made in advancing anti-racism. We don’t aim to detract from their vital work, rather, we remain concerned about the broader silence and lack of urgency from the University and desire to see a shift towards a more consistent, vocal, and immediate anti-racism stance from all of University leadership.
In developing this response, we consulted with BIPOC student leaders. They fully align with all items laid out below. While many chose to keep their voice distinct via a separate letter, there is full mutual support of both expressions of action. Biola, as you look to implement the following requests, we ask that you center BIPOC leadership and guidance doing so, heeding any further input they might have.
While our hope remains that the five-year plan within the IDSP will set into motion an immutable commitment and new approach to diversity at Biola, we call on the University to act now and with haste. We are asking that the following be completed or explicitly committed to by the University within a matter of weeks:
1. Issue a new statement immediately apologizing for downplaying the severity of this situation. This new statement will specifically condemn police brutality and denounce the ongoing police violence against protestors, remove irrelevant information about SpaceX and the COVID-19 vaccine, call the killing of George Floyd a murder, not simply a death, and explicitly commit the University without qualification to the statement that Black lives do, indeed, matter. This statement will also call upon faculty, staff, and the administration of Biola to commit themselves to making Biola an anti-racist university.
2. Release the full text of the Institutional Diversity Strategic Plan (IDSP). This will be released to Biola’s website immediately so that current students, future students, alumni, and the public can review its 4 goals, 16 initiatives, and 33 strategies. Promising to release an executive summary at some point during the Fall 2020 semester is profoundly insufficient.
3. Release the assessment plan for the University’s IDSP. This plan must offer clear timelines for the implementation of each step in the IDSP and be released by July 6th, 2020. This plan must also ensure that publicly available reports are issued every semester beginning with the Fall 2020 semester detailing the progress that has been made towards achieving the goals of the IDSP.
4. Institute an anti-racism task force by August 1st, 2020. This task force will be instituted by August 1st, 2020 and include faculty, staff, and students from each of Biola’s 9 schools, student representatives from 15 distinct organizations or clubs on campus, and represent the demographic makeup of Biola’s students, 40% of whom are BIPOC. This task force will:
- Send monthly updates of progress and new initiatives to all stakeholders (including students, staff, alumni, and donors) in the interest of accountability and transparency
- Partner with Campus Safety to immediately prioritize ensuring that students can anonymously and safely report incidents of racism and receive thorough investigations of these reports
5. Mandate attendance at the annual Student Congress on Racial Reconciliation (SCORR) for all undergraduate students. SCORR must be mandatory starting in the 2020-2021 school year, and Biola will ensure that SCORR receives annual funding comparable to the funding allocated to the Torrey Memorial Bible Conference and the Missions Conference. This funding will no longer be determined by the Student Government Association, nor will it continue to be taken from the student fee, but it will be instead provided directly by the University. This step must take place by August 1st, 2020.
6. Actively prioritize funding for BIPOC groups and initiatives. This will include the following steps:
- Distributing $54,551 — the cost of one student’s tuition, room, and board for a year of education at the University — between SEID, Mosaic initiatives, and the Black Student Association.
- Ensuring that there are no decreases to funding (whether total funds or percentages as part of a funding whole) to any BIPOC student group or initiative for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year.
- Making the 2019-2020 budget for student groups publicly available, as well as the budget for student groups in each following school year.
Dr. Corey, you remind us in your statement that “our plans will not work if our hearts are not aligned.” Let us align our financial resources with our hearts (Matt. 6:21). These steps must take place by August 1st, 2020.
7. Institute anti-racism training for all staff, faculty, and student leaders. This training will include explicit instruction on subconscious racism, systemic racism, and white supremacy, and be composed primarily of resources or curriculum created by BIPOC. We suggest the works of Layla F. Saad, Ibram X. Kendi, Michelle Alexander, and Ijeoma Oluo, among others. We encourage the University to conduct their own research into anti-racism resources as well. Resources on anti-racism will be provided by the University at no cost to Student Orientation Services leaders, Student Life, and Residence Life. This step must take place by August 1st, 2020.
8. Demonstrate commitment to diversity of thought by including more BIPOC authors in its curriculum. The University should institute an exploratory committee by August 31st, 2020 to make the following changes:
- Include more books and novels by BIPOC authors in curriculum, particularly in courses offered by the Torrey Honors Program, humanities courses, international studies courses, and all Bible and theology courses.
- Include works by BIPOC theologians in all Bible and theology classes as well as all First-Year Seminars.
- Mandate an anti-racist training course and a course in BIPOC history for all students in the School of Education.
- Mandate a racial reconciliation course for first-year students, which will include small group discussions and time for reflection.
Include texts by and about BIPOC in each major’s first year classes.
Changes to the 2021-2022 academic catalog should be published by October 1st, 2020.
9. Announce a lineup of chapel speakers for the Fall 2020 semester that, at a bare minimum, reflects the demographic makeup of Biola students, 40% of whom are BIPOC. This lineup (which has been publicly promised) must be published by August 18th, 2020. For each future semester, chapel speakers must continue to reflect the demographic makeup of the student body. If during any semester the University fails to ensure this step takes place, the University must publish a report detailing how these circumstances arose and what will be done to prevent such a situation from taking place in the future.
Dr. Corey, the University you lead promised to inculcate within us “hearts of compassion” so that we might perform “acts of courage.” This letter is an act of courage, offered to you with hearts of compassion for the BIPOC students and alumni of Biola who continue to face discrimination, harassment, and racism from those who claim to serve Christ. We pray that you will receive this letter in the spirit of love with which it is offered.
Biola Alumni Standing in Solidarity
Jessica Airey (‘14)
Nolan Anderson (‘17)
Michael Asmus (‘15)
Aaron Barrett (‘16)
Julia Bates (‘13)
Natalie Bautista (‘15)
Megan Beatty (‘14)
Hannah Caprara (‘15)
Griffin Casey (‘17)
Sue Chew (‘13)
Christian Davis (‘17)
Jillian Davis (‘17)
Ryan Dayhoff (‘16)
Shannon Dodson (‘15)
John Drebinger III (‘12)
Josh Eccles (‘16)
Rebecca Gallacher (‘15)
Nolan Goff (‘12)
Anyssa Guiterrez-Jeffrey (‘17)
Lauren Gustafson (‘15)
Thomas Harlander (‘15)
Jonathan Hensley (‘12)
Lim Cheol Hwan (‘16)
Alan Jeffrey (‘17)
Rekah Kagawan (‘14)
Rachel Lara van der Merwe (‘12)
Heather Leith (‘14)
Shannon Leith (‘09)
Natalie Lockard (‘15)
Jordan Lounsbury (‘12)
Gabriel Malasig (‘16)
Rachel Malasig (‘15)
Tyler Martin ('18)
Kayla McCabe (‘17)
Brian McCullom (‘14)
Erin Middleton (‘14)
Parker Munson (‘15)
Joseph Olvera (‘17)
Jeffrey Prosser (‘15)
Andrew Rurik (‘12)
Dylan Sapanza (‘17)
Matt Schouten (‘13)
Noah Schrader (‘16)
Sarah Schwartz (‘12)
Rachel Shimko (‘16)
Mahlia St. Cyr (‘20)
Haley Talbert (‘16)
Danielle Thompson (‘17)
Elena Trueba (‘15)
Brandon Westmore (‘16)
Randall White (‘15)
Brad Winsbury (‘14)
This letter was sent to Dr. Corey and several Biola faculty and staff members. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @weare_basis and join us at wearebasis.us
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