stories from the frontlines of difference in the evangelical university

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Christian Colleges as Potemkin Villages

“In the mean time, we’ve seen enough to know. You can’t be a scholar with any sort of academic integrity and survive at an Evangelical school. So head to the State U or a mainline seminary to ensure that what you’re paying for is actually an education.” That’s the well respected scholar J.R. Daniel Kirk’s damning assessment of Christian colleges in the wake of l’affaire Larycia Hawkins at Wheaton College.



A terrifying thought

Thinking a bit more about  Dr. Hawkins and many other similar abuses of power that I have witnessed against black women faculty at places like Westmont College (see here, for an example), I am struck by a terrifying thought:

Is it possible for a black woman of conscience who is a member of the faculty at an evangelical college to do more than survive at these institutions? In other words, is the basic structure of these institutions so anti-black that its impossible for black faculty (especially women) to simply exist?


The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

One of the ironies of the pervasive anti-intellectualism of evangelical colleges like Wheaton College is that many of the Christian thinkers that they regularly invoke would never actually stand a chance of keeping their jobs were they part of the faculty. A person like Miroslav Volf, for instance, regularly receives speaking invitations to Wheaton, but it is quite clear that he wouldn’t last a day if he were to be part of the Wheaton faculty. That old adage about freedom of the press applies even more brutally at evangelical colleges like Wheaton, Westmont and Calvin when it comes to academic freedom: “academic freedom is guaranteed to those who own one.”

Here is Volf on Wheaton College’s bigotry:

“Wheaton professor’s suspension is about anti-Muslim bigotry, not theology.”

On Fear and Loathing at Wheaton College: An Alumna’s Perspective

The following blog post is by Elena Yee, an alumna of Illinois’ Wheaton College. This post was originally published at Elena Yee’s blog, The View From Here:

The other day a friend of mine posted on social media about all that’s happening at Wheaton College in IL. If you haven’t heard by now, it’s about the supposed conflation of Islam and Christianity by a tenured professor seeking solidarity with Muslims. Although I’m disappointed, I’m hardly surprised considering how the institution has gotten into hot water about birth control and having fired a professor who converted to the Catholic faith. Add to it is their football team dressed up in KKK robes for a skit and a LGBT student leader who was attacked with an apple. So, frankly, even as Wheaton College has attempted to address the issues of racism, it is hardly the place for acceptance, understanding or empathy when it comes to diversity of any kind (except to evangelize them into the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ).

On the same posting, I wrote about how I, as an alum of the graduate school, decided over a year ago to remove myself from the college’s mailing list for reasons completely unrelated to the most recent news. Another person, also an alum (I believe), indirectly criticized me (so passive aggressive) about how people like me do things like that (meaning removing myself from the alum mailing list) and that I no longer am implicated (i.e. not involved, responsible).

However, as a Christian (yes, I am deeply devoted to Jesus Christ and his teachings of mercy, love and justice), I am implicated every time I apply for any job because Wheaton College is on my resume. I have lost opportunities because of having attended and worked at Wheaton College as well as worked at another evangelical college. I am implicated because I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, so, no, I don’t believe I’m any less removed from the institution or the issues that arise from intolerance, judgment and even hate.

And, oh, by the way my degree was in in Missions (Intercultural Studies) in preparation to serve in the Muslim world. Everything I learned in my classes AT Wheaton College was more about the and/both and not either/or because those of us working cross-culturally understand implicitly how Jesus and the Apostle Paul crossed cultures and found common ground for all that is good, true and beautiful.

Fear and Loathing at Wheaton College

Suppose you were Islamophobic and racist, and suppose you were an Evangelical College; but I repeat myself.


Phrenology at Westmont College

Determined not to be upstaged by Calvin College’s Literal Adam Creationism, Westmont College ups the ante in the Victorian Science stakes:

Many colleges go to great lengths to encourage their students to study abroad. Is the effort worth it? In an attempt to answer that question once and for all, officials at Westmont College, in Santa Barbara, Calif., are making an unorthodox appeal to science: They’re scanning students’ brains and looking for signs of growth.

Last fall researchers at Westmont started a study that uses headsets to test electrical activity in the brains of 30 freshmen. The students will be scanned again in two years, after they have had a chance to study abroad, and they will be scanned once more after they graduate. The tests can be used to measure empathy and nine categories of “executive functions,” which include areas like memory, reasoning, and problem solving, said Gayle D. Beebe, Westmont’s president.

“We really don’t know what we’ll find,” Mr. Beebe said in an interview. “We just know we’ll discover some things that we anticipate and then be utterly surprised by other things that we discover.”

 This fall Westmont’s psychology and neuroscience professors will scan another group of 30 students and continue monitoring the initial group, with the hope of securing funds to scan an entire class of about 325 students. Mr. Beebe said the tests would let campus officials build a “databank” to help them “shape some of the experiences and teachings” in Westmont’s curriculum.

Westmont is paying for the tests, he said, with about $50,000 from a set of three private donations totaling $1 million. One headset costs about $400, according to the website of SenseLabs, the company that designed them.

Experts questioned, however, whether Mr. Beebe and Westmont officials would gain anything of value from the brain-scan study.

“I was trying to think of something more ridiculous, but I couldn’t,” said Robert A. Burton, a neurologist and author of A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves (St. Martin’s Press, 2013).

Russell Poldrack, a professor of psychology at Stanford University who studies neuroimaging, said a more accurate test would require using an MRI machine. EEG headset technology is “pretty close to useless for telling how the brain is changing,” he said. “This is just a gimmick. It’s somebody trying to use our infatuation with brain stuff to try to sell a product.”

In the Chronicle interview, Mr. Beebe said he would “always go with an expert opinion,” but he’s still interested in seeing the results once researchers at Westmont collect more data.

“It’s just an avenue of intellectual curiosity that I run in,” Mr. Beebe said. “I’m just anxious to see what we’ll discover, and I have no idea what it will be.”



Et tu, Whitworth University?

Everyday racism at Whitworth University:

Westmont College’s Whites Only Leadership Conference

Westmont College is holding a conference on leadership. Check out the all-white list of speakers below.  One of the keynote speakers is President Gayle Beebe. 

Westmont College’s institutional racism is shameful, disgraceful, and vile.

A Tale of Two Ethical Imaginations

Two starkly contrasting sorts of responses to movements for justice and equality say a great deal about the kinds of ethical imaginations modeled by Westmont College.

In a report by Inside Higher Education on how CCCU presidents are responding to calls for equality by LGBTQIA students and alumni, Westmont College’s president is quoted thus: “It’s a conversation that’s here to stay, and we want the conversation to be both honest and fair,” said Gayle Beebe, president of Westmont College. The article then goes on to say that Beebe argued that “too much focus on sexuality of any kind is a distraction and prevents students from becoming well-adjusted people.”

Compare that response with the one offered by Amanda Sutter, a member of the class of 2014. An excerpt:

“We cannot fully know God without getting to know each other; we cannot know each other if we do not see each other as equal; and we cannot see each other as equal until we admit the ways in which we have wronged or dehumanized each other.

How many times have my actions or words been hurtful, coming from a place I have yet to acknowledge? Though race and ethnicity was a major focus of my studies in my last two years at Westmont, daily I become more aware of the place of extreme privilege from which I come….

But I know that I still don’t see everything, and I know that I still hurt others (microaggressions?), and for this I apologize. I apologize for my pedestal. I apologize for all those times I thought that I understood. I apologize for thinking that because I am more educated than another, I am somehow never in the wrong. I apologize for not listening enough. I apologize for sometimes believing stereotypes. I apologize for when I failed to speak out against injustice. I apologize for all the times I had discussions about racial injustice, but failed to protest against it. And I apologize for all the times in the future that I will fail again.”

Go read the entirety of Amanda’s blog post here and Know Hope.

Westmont College’s Erasure of LGBTQ Alumni

The negation of Westmont College’s LGBTQIA students does not come to an end at graduation. Elena Yee offers a heartbreaking tale of Westmont College’s damnatio memoriae of its LGBTQIA alumni:

Not too long ago I found out that an alum of a college I used to work at was being promoted into a significant position, and I thought it’d be great to have the news about him be part of the college’s list of on-line articles about alumni news.  When I asked the college about this, I was told that they had actually been tracking this alum’s career and have been wanting to interview him but he did not respond to their initial inquiry.  So I offered to follow-up and I did.

Well, it turns out that, yes, this alum received their inquiry and though he was open to being interviewed, he wasn’t so sure they were open to hearing what he had to say.  And it was no surprise that he said that he would have both very good things to say and some tough things to say about his experiences at the college.  I suppose this is true for most alum of any college in that one has mixed experiences as an undergraduate.  Yet it is particularly true for those who are marginalized due to race, sexual orientation, social economic status and so on to have some deeply difficult experiences at a PWI (primarily White institution).

It was also no surprise that the college rep said that they couldn’t interview and feature the alum after all.  What was most disconcerting (though not a surprise) is that the decision was based on the alum’s views about the college’s community life statement and sexual orientation.

In the end, what’s so sad is that the college continues to ignore the hundreds of successful LGBTQ alum that they could be proud of and feature in their alumni magazine but they won’t.  And several years ago LGBTG alum and allies sent an open letter to the college, which in the end led to not much of anything except my departure.

Go read the entirety of Elena Yee’s powerful story here and then join Westmont College’s LGBTQ students and alumni in affirming that Queer Stories Matter.