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A Message to the Whitworth Community from President Beck A. Taylor

September 7, 2015

To all members of the Whitworth family:

As we begin Whitworth's 126th academic year, I want to address the difficult issues surrounding the recent use of blackface by some of our students. Like so many of you, my hope and prayer is that, in Christ, our community can become a place where respect for each person, made in the image of God, unites us and enables constructive dialogue on the opportunities and challenges that face our diverse community. That's the Whitworth way.

I want to acknowledge first that the students involved in this incident don't bear all of the blame. These students, each one a loved member of the Whitworth family, acted not out of malice, but out of ignorance. To the extent that their education, both before coming to Whitworth and after their arrival, failed to teach them important facts about the segregation and dehumanization of blacks and other racial minorities in the United States, we are to blame. Blame falls upon each of us whose charge, over the course of a student's education, is to teach history well and to equip and prepare students to be competent citizens in an increasingly diverse world. On behalf of all of us who share the noble call to teach, I apologize – to those who were injured by yet another example of insensitivity and privileged indifference; to our students, who unwittingly donned symbols of oppression, racial stereotyping, and cultural misappropriation; and to every person who works to cultivate racial harmony and reconciliation. We must do better, and we will.

Although I am convinced that the students involved in this incident did not act with malicious intent, the immediate impact of their actions reached far and wide. In a community and society already scarred by racial injustice, what may have seemed like an innocent photograph reopened old wounds or poured salt into those that were already festering. To ignore the impact of the photograph, perhaps under the veil of the students' innocent intent, would be to say to our brothers and sisters that we do not acknowledge their feelings of insecurity, marginalization, and impatience as they wait for our community to live out commitments made long, long ago. For those who would claim that the innocence of the action completely covers the damage that was done, I would humbly ask that you listen well to the voices of those we love who are in pain because of the ways in which this incident reminds them of the lack of progress in combatting racial injustice in our communities. For the pain that this incident caused across the Whitworth family and beyond, I apologize, and I pledge that Whitworth will redouble its efforts in these areas.

Today I am announcing a new initiative called #WhitworthUnited, a broad-based effort to educate, to inform, and to encourage dialogue so that we may seek the unity of Christ through racial reconciliation on our campus and in our community. To demonstrate the university's commitment to these efforts, I'm creating a significant new pool of resources to support our work. I've asked Provost Carol Simon and Vice President of Student Life Rhosetta Rhodes, in consultation with Chief Diversity Officer Larry Burnley, ASWU President Justin Botejue and others, to lead this effort and to seek the input and support of students, faculty, staff, and alumni as they use these new resources to advance our goals.

Out of the confusion and pain of this event, Whitworth now has the responsibility to lead. The gospel of Christ is transformative and has the power to renew broken communities. We will seek the grace of Christ as we extend grace to one another. We will live faithfully into our commitments to love and honor each person made in the image of our Creator, even as we equip graduates to honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity.

Grace and peace,

Beck A. Taylor