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Remarks On Stand Against Racism Day

April 29, 2011

This year, we've learned some important lessons about ourselves. In the face of Westboro Baptist Church's demonstration of hate and condemnation, we learned we can pull together to embrace and support all members of the Whitworth community. Yet, on other occasions, our actions – individual and corporate, conscious and unconscious, subtle and blatant – failed our commitment to reflect God's love and grace to all people. Many of us learned, for example, that the N-word – burdened with its history of pain and oppression – cannot be used by anyone, regardless of race or intent, without hurting valued members of our community. These lessons remind us that we are all sinners and have much to learn, but, by God's grace, we are capable of being agents of justice and reconciliation.

So, as Whitworth today joins with organizations around the country in the YWCA's "Stand Against Racism" campaign, I think it's important to affirm together that there is no place at Whitworth for any form of bigotry or hate speech. Our "Big Three" campus code of conduct prohibits all behavior that threatens the safety or emotional well-being of another member of the campus community. When hate speech, including the N-word, is used by anyone on our campus, people we love feel threatened, hurt and marginalized. When we stand up to the ugly or careless use of such speech, we embody the kind of diverse, welcoming and vibrant community Whitworth aspires to be.

The Whitworth 2021 Vision & Strategic plan calls us to demonstrate courageous leadership for an increasingly diverse world by cultivating in students, faculty, staff and trustees the capacity to relate effectively across multiple dimensions of human difference. This is one of eight priorities in the strategic plan and is central to Whitworth's mission to equip students to honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity. Indeed, what it means for us to be an inclusive community is rooted in the very nature of the Triune God, in the rich and varied beauty of God's creation and in the image of God that every person bears.

We are preparing now to launch several initiatives that will advance this important work. A permanent representative body will be established to provide leadership and accountability for our goals related to diversity and intercultural competency. We will complete a campus-wide audit of diversity-related initiatives; an evaluation of current general education, American diversity, and global perspectives requirements in achieving their intended student learning outcomes; and a comprehensive assessment of Whitworth's learning, working, and living climate. These assessments will occur on a regular basis and will inform new approaches for recruiting students, staff and faculty, new professional development and training opportunities and new curricular and co-curricular programs. While we hope that these efforts will help us to attract and retain students, faculty and staff from underrepresented racial and ethnic populations, we know they will better prepare all graduates to pursue their vocation with intellectual competence, moral courage and deep compassion in an increasingly diverse world.

Important leadership is being provided by many, including Assistant Vice President for Intercultural Relations Larry Burnley, Associate Dean for Intercultural Student Affairs Esther Louie, and Dean of Spiritual Life Terry McGonigal. But we are all assigned to this work. Each of us has the responsibility to acknowledge our own biases and to work actively to build bridges of understanding with people from backgrounds different than our own. Each of us has the responsibility in our classes, in our residence halls and in our places of work to confront assaults on the Whitworth community with grace and truth. And each of us has the responsibility to be agents of grace and reconciliation where there is pain and discord. We still have much to learn. But I am confident that we are up to the task.