Petition for Dr. Cliff Williams

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As members of the Wheaton College community, we are saddened that the administration has decided against renewing Dr. Williams's work contract as a visiting faculty member at the college. We would like to voice our concerns about this decision and challenge Wheaton to uphold their pledge “to cultivate a diverse community of students, faculty and staff who reflect the wide spectrum of God's Kingdom,” to be a space that values the voices of all of the members of Christ’s body, the voices that are easy to embrace as well those that make us uncomfortable.


We challenge Wheaton’s administration to transform rather than perpetuate the culture of silencing voices that are not of the majority. As Wheaton seeks to deepen its ethnic diversity, we look to Biblical reminders of diversity in the body of Christ, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NRSV). It cannot be negated that part of deepening ethnic diversity and advancing intercultural understanding means making students of all backgrounds feel welcomed and included. An integral part of inclusion is the Biblical call to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT). Dr. Williams has embodied this mandate of hospitality in order to fulfill Wheaton’s mission to advance Christ’s Kingdom. Dr. Williams understands the balance of not only accruing students of different backgrounds, but also making them feel heard and welcomed during their time at Wheaton. Acknowledging this, Dr. Williams is a vital asset to the short term and long term development of Wheaton College towards these goals.


With regards to deepening ethnic diversity, Dr. Williams has been incredibly influential to both white students and students of color, particularly through his Race and Justice course. For white students who desire to learn how to better love their minority brothers and sisters, his life embodies practical methods of engaging in a racialized world to create a positive impact. Beyond impacting white students, Dr. Williams has provided a space for students who feel excluded from Wheaton’s majority white culture to feel known, heard, and loved. For many, Dr. Williams is the first white faculty member that has extended a hand of hospitality. He has embodied compassion, solidarity, and wisdom in a way that few Christians do, and we as his students and friends can testify that he does this with the utmost humility. In the past few years, he has welcomed the voices of previously silenced members of the Wheaton community by listening with love, accompanying with a posture of patience, and taking action in hope.


Additionally, Dr. Williams has challenged students through his other philosophy classes on Love and Friendship, Death and the Meaning of Life, Emotions, and Religious Experience. Dr. Williams has stretched students’ minds to wrestle with important topics and questions related to our roles as Christians in society and to think deeply about our own relationships with God and others. Through classes like these, along with Race and Justice, Dr. Williams has acted in fulfillment of Wheaton’s mission statement to “educate the whole person to build the church and benefit society worldwide.”


Dr. Williams’ unique commitment to the development of this campus is evidenced through his ongoing academic contributions in forming new courses, certificate programs, and publishing books and articles relevant to the Wheaton community. Among his most important contributions are the curricular construction and initiation of his Race and Justice course, his quarterly Record segment In the Margins, his first edition of “Microaggressions and Whiteness at Wheaton College: Making the Invisible Visible,” and his crucial role in initiating the Africana Studies Certificate.

 

Beyond academics, Dr. Williams demonstrates an exceptional personal support of every student’s individual flourishing even outside the classroom. He consistently supports his students’ extracurricular pursuits whenever possible, attending athletic competitions, music recitals and concerts, and Arena Theater plays. Through such actions, Dr. Williams conveys his care for students and his investment in their holistic development. We are grateful for the profound embodiment of hospitality and support that Dr. Williams exemplifies, one rarely encountered in other faculty members.


We challenge Wheaton College, both students and faculty, to change the paradigm Wheaton has grown accustomed to using in dealing with differences on campus. We should not want to exclude members of the community that are different from the majority because differences cause slight discomfort. Instead, we must learn how to live in the tension of difference as the beautifully crafted body of Christ that we are, united in a common pursuit of love for all members of the Wheaton community.

Although Dr. Williams has impacted students in every class that he has taught, we recognize that there is still a rising demand for discussions on race, inequality, and justice-related topics at Wheaton College that he is uniquely equipped to meet. For that reason, we are calling on the administration to give Dr. Cliff Williams at least two sessions of Philosophy of Race and Justice each semester of the 2018-2019 school year, and to demonstrate that his presence is valued by not only renewing his contract for employment, but committing to keep him at Wheaton College as a full-time faculty of Philosophy beyond the year of 2019.


Warmly,


Students and Friends of Dr. Cliff Williams

 



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