“We will be OK.” Those words were the motif of President Luxton’s address during last Thursday’s chapel program. In the weeks leading up to this moment, Andrews University was challenged by several black students and staff members to respond to and apologize for the racial privileging and systemic racism present in the school system within one week. And in that one week, many wondered what exactly would happen and how Andrews would handle the responsibility thrust upon them.
Unlike many other Thursdays, Pioneer Memorial Church saw Andrews students flood inside to attend the weekly chapel service. This time, however, the congregation seemed more anxious. Pews up to the balcony were filled with restless students and Andrews faculty and staff members waiting to see the university response to the controversial topic. As President Luxton spoke, I, for one, was not disappointed.
Luxton broke her response into two parts: the first, her own message, a compelling and raw statement regarding her views and reactions to the challenge and her hopes to move forward, and the second, a formal video response featuring members of the university’s leadership apologizing and promising to do better.
What struck me as most compelling in Luxton’s address was her call for Christians and Seventh-day Adventists to hold themselves to higher standards when listening to the plight of (racial) others, specifically telling the congregation not to let the assumptions one might have of another get in the way of compassion. It would seem like a no-brainer to be compassionate listening Christians, but seeing President Luxton highlight the lack of that within the church and the university felt warmly reassuring. Why? I can’t really say.
I will say that when the video first came out, I stood in solidarity with the plight of my brothers and sisters. As a real, authentic and transparent response to an act that they viewed as the privileging of the hegemonic voice, I felt that they had the right to demand the same privileges. I will say that when I heard that there was outcry over the video, it took debates with friends and some time for me to realize that criticizing the method of the challenge inherently invalidated the message. I will say that seeing President Luxton take steps to address the concerns of a subset of the student body showed me the Andrews University I want to continue being a part of. And I will say that seeing an official response apologizing for and acknowledging Andrews University’s racist history and promising to move forward brought me to near-tears.
Honestly, I don’t think anyone but President Luxton could have given this apology and charge more effectively. As someone who focused her entire presidency on the story of others, her emphasis on listening, or rather effectively listening, to the voice of the community became much more apparent and real. Maybe that’s why her message of “We will be OK” became so believable. President Luxton gave her authentic response, humbly and kindly. She didn’t criticize, but listened and looked for a solution. At the end, many in the congregation stood and applauded. And in my eyes, the standing ovation she received after her two-part response wasn’t just an affirmation of her message. It was the sound of years of built-up tensions of the school’s racialized history beginning to release; it was the sound of a healing community. Andrews still has a long way to go before fully realizing complete reconciliation, but with the steps we have taken, I believe we’ll be alright.