The Grove City College Board of Trustees Meets This Week. Here's What They Should Do about Racism.
In light of the anti-CRT report that has caused so much division, the Board has a chance to change.
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The Grove City College Board of Trustees meets on May 13, 2022. In addition to their normal slate of duties, they also have a lot work to do to figure out how they will handle a crisis regarding racism.
In March, a sub-committee of the Board released the “Report and Recommendation of the Special Committee.” Its purpose was to “review allegations of mission drift” brought on by a petition that claimed the college was being taken over by Critical Race Theory.
You can read more about the context HERE.
Many faculty, alumni, and students of Grove City College, upon reading the report, reacted negatively. Some began counter-petitions including “GCC Alumni in Support of Dr. Jemar Tisby” and “Preserve the Educational Mission of GCC.”
An extended commentary ensued on several social media platforms, mostly in support of free inquiry and chiding the sub-committee and GCC’s leaders for impeding racial justice efforts at the school.
So far the Board of Trustees at Grove City College has not offered any official response. This week’s meeting is their opportunity to do so.
What the Board of Trustees says or does not say will powerfully communicate whether they stand for racial justice in the name of Christ or political conservatism in the name of power and comfort.
Since I wrote a whole book on what individuals and organizations can do about racism and the sub-committee report referred to it, I will make some suggestions according to the framework I introduce in How to Fight Racism—the ARC of Racial Justice.
The Grove City College sub-committee report demonstrates they have little understanding of what they call Critical Race Theory and, even more concerning, they demonstrate an elementary level of understanding of racial dynamics and white supremacy. Therefore, a paramount task for the Board itself is to learn more about racism as both an ideology and actions.
Here are some suggestions to raise their awareness about racism.
The Board and leadership of the school should engage in ongoing training and racial awareness building practices. These activities should include book study groups that are facilitated by experts. Group discussion of documentaries and other forms of storytelling about race. Visits to historical sites and museums that tell the history of racism in the United States and their own community. A Civil Rights tour or pilgrimage could be a vehicle for this learning.
The Board and leadership should explore their personal history and background with race. This could include a facilitated guide through a racial identity development framework and writing their own racial autobiography.
Many white people lack meaningful relationships with people who differ from them. Cedric Lewis, an adjunct professor at Grove City College and the only Black instructor at the school mentioned that a class on diversity and advocacy that he co-teaches is the first opportunity many students have to interact with a Black instructor.
In a Religion News Service article, Lewis explained, “We can’t love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t know our neighbors.” He also “added that Christians should be leading conversations about race and racism, not ending them.”
The Board of Trustees should issue a written apology. In order to repair damaged relationships with Grove City College faculty, staff, and students, the Board must write a message indicating their errors in judgement, enumerating their mistakes, and admitting a disregard for the experiences of historically underrepresented groups.
Board members and administrators should be witnesses to a truth-telling procedure where students who have experienced racism on campus can share their experiences. This is at the discretion of the victims of racism and no one is under obligation to share. If they are willing, affected students should be allowed to relate their experiences in multiple formats such as writing, video, or in person.
Grove City College officials should learn from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). At minimum, this would entail visiting HBCUs to observe their curriculum and student support programs. When appropriate, HBCU personnel should be paid for their advice and expertise. Personnel from HBCUs may even serve as paid consultants to the college.
The Board and administrators at Grove City College should pay attention to the concerns and suggestions of their own students, faculty, and alumni. These concerns were outlined in the petitions referenced above. Each of these petitions should be considered up at the Board level and necessary actions pursuant to the documents should be taken. In addition, leaders at the school should peruse commentary from their pro-racial justice constituents online and on social media for additional context.
In the ARC of Racial Justice, commitment refers not simply to staying the course, but to devoting time and energy to changing policies and practices that contribute to racial inequities.
At Grove City College, many policies and practices must change in order to prevent harm to the Black students and other people of color at the school.
The Board of Trustees must reject the anti-CRT report. It arises from a reactionary posture of fear that places more weight on the opinions and possible donations from a small group of constituents than the legitimate concerns of racial and ethnic minority students. It is a poorly-argued and hasty work that is not fitting of undergraduate students much less the Board of Trustees.
Grove City College leaders should submit to an external audit regarding the culture and racial climate of the school. This examination must be done by people outside of the college and experienced in such matters. The anti-CRT report makes it clear that many of the college’s leaders do not have the necessary skills or perspectives to self-evaluate.
A full curriculum audit and revision must be conducted. This must also be done with external consultation and should lead to significant revisions to include more teaching about history, sociology, and literature related to racism and what to do about it.
The budget should reflect racial justice and responsiveness as a priority. The sub-committee’s report recommended that the Office of Multicultural Education and Initiatives be “reconstituted and renamed…to prevent veering into cocurricular activity.” This might include defunding the office, which currently consists only of one staff member. Instead, the Board and administrators should devote more financial and institutional resources to the Office and any endeavors to support racial justice at the school.
The Grove City College Board of Trustees and administration should collaborate with consultants and internal constituents to devise and publicize a racial justice action plan. The plans must have qualitative and quantitive goals that can be measured and evaluated. They must be made public so there is appropriate accountability.
The Reality of the Situation
The above efforts simply minimize the damage the Board and leaders of Grove City College have already done. The reality is that even with a sustained commitment to change, it will take years before the campus climate becomes healthy for historically underrepresented groups.
What is most probable is that the Board of Trustees might admit some insensitivity in the report. They might make some tepid remarks about “poor wording” and a “lack of clarity.” But when it comes to substantive change and a sincere understanding of what they did wrong, actions will be lacking.
Those who have followed this saga should take note that many Christian institutions are taking the same approach as Grove City College—they are branding themselves as politically ultra-conservative.
Their identity and financial viability is wrapped up in communicating they are NOT “woke” or teaching “CRT.” In practice, this means they make racial progress on their campuses nearly impossible.
Unfortunately, the radicalism this nation is seeing in right-wing politics is also reflected in Christian institutions. Any meaningful racial justice efforts are viewed as un-Christian and will be opposed at these places.
While change is always possible, the anti-CRT report at Grove City College illustrates the sad truth that some Christian schools are more committed to conservative politics than to Christ.