“When you view your leadership with the lens of moral leadership, there will always be a cost.” These were the words of our provost, Dr. Christon Arthur, upon being asked about the donors who have threatened to withdraw their financial support of Andrews University in the wake of the #ItIsTimeAU video and the “Listen. Dialogue. Change.” response video. Arthur stood fearless in his resolution to make right the wrongs of the past, regardless of any monetary consequences it may garner. Integrity— holding fast to your character when it would be easier not to.
Last fall the University of Chicago stated that their campus would not facilitate or entertain “safe spaces” or “trigger warnings.” Their intention was to maintain the open discourse and not allow feeling to get in the way of advancing knowledge. There was major backlash on a national scale after this statement as some believed this would be damaging to the wellbeing of the young people there, assuming that students needed designated safe spaces, places where silence replaces discomfort. The university made a stance for intelligent conversation, even on controversial topics.
After the #ItIsTimeAU video hit social media, there was a foreseeable backlash. Current students, alumni, former staff and members of the community, both local and church wide, expressed concern in various ways. Some stated with civility that the experiences of those in the video were not reflective of their own. Others took the less civil route. The next week, when student, faculty and administrative leaders gave their reply and apology via the same medium, I expected a the new wave of responses to be more informed and positive, but leave it to the residents of Facebook to show you no good deed will go unpunished. While still the minority voice to the overwhelming amount of praise for the apology, the negative comments ranged from name-calling to false accusations of AU’s namesake, J.N. Andrews, as being a slave owner.
It seems to me that these harshly negative reactions were coming from a place of confused hurt. Hurt by what? I can’t tell you for certain. Could it be that some felt their alma mater was bending to what they considered unreasonable demands? Or perhaps some viewers felt that the raising up of one group of people may subsequently lower their group, their level of privilege. To them I would quote my friend Jordanne who has repeated to me on several occasions, “Just because I’m not one of you, doesn’t mean I can’t fight for you.” If you were confused, hurt, or upset by our school’s decision to apologize, I would suggest taking a minute, listening, and questioning what it is inside you that would make you take offense to an apology.
One complaint about campus leadership meeting the demands of the original #ItIsTimeAU video was that those who made it were not going through the proper channels of complaint and appeal. Our president, Dr. Luxton, was brilliant in her use of analogy during her spoken response last Thursday in Chapel. She referenced the Biblical story of healing the paralytic let down through the roof. The point she made was that when the friends broke through, Jesus’s first priority was to heal, not to critique. Did the creators of the initial video use unorthodox means to get their voices heard? Yes. But because they broke through the roof, other groups can walk through the door.
When the University of Chicago denounced safe spaces that would mean silencing intelligent yet controversial topics, they were making a stand for civil discourse. Any good university is a safe space for persons willing to open their eyes and look outside of their own collection of experiences to learn from those who’ve walked these halls before them. Academic freedom means having discussions that are uncomfortable to some, but there is no greater venue than a university to safely navigate the tides of social justice. Our university just set a major precedent in proclaiming that instead of shying away from an uncomfortable situation, they would meet it head on.