The Unity Petition begins by accusing SPU of the following:
The current structure of SPU in all areas pertaining to student life, community involvement, faculty development, and internal relations, suppresses minority cultures and identities by perpetuating the notion that Western white evangelical culture is socially and theologically normative, thereby inhibiting the personal and communal development of minority students.
This accusation then calls for a Chief Diversity Office to represent students who have been “historically neglected by this University,” and “to overturn processes, programs, and practices by which the oppression and marginalization of minorities is perpetuated.” We, the Friends of the First Amendment, vehemently oppose the contention that SPU is currently institutionally oppressive to persons of color.
One of our critics, referencing our experience as students of color and our critique of recent campus events, call us to “either see their differences… as a deficiency…and dismiss them, or… listen and try to understand why [we] might not feel the same way… and stand in solidarity with them.” We do not dismiss the hurt those have felt on this campus as a product of racist individuals, and stand by anyone who has been victim of racial prejudice. However, the Friends of the First Amendment cannot accept blanket claims of institutional oppression without substantiated evidence. We believe that such acceptance only perpetuates the marginalization of students of color by prompting them to view themselves as victims and the majority as privileged oppressors. The more minorities ascribe to this worldview, the more perceived marginalization becomes self-inflicted marginalization. This is not only harmful to the individuals of the minority, but to the entire community.
The perceived divide of “privileged” and “marginalized” (we intend to address the issue of “allies” at a future date) causes us to no longer identify as individuals with varying personality types and cultural experiences in stark contrast to Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” As members of the great American experiment whose fundamental principles would not maintain institutional slavery or any such systematic oppression, the identities of the historically-privileged and historically-oppressed must not be the primary identifiers of the individuals at our institution.
We do not deny the presence of true racism and oppression in our society and openly condemn any practices or attitudes that promulgate these evils. However, the situation on campus is a far cry from the hurdles and barriers Dr. King and his contemporaries had to overcome. Thus, in order to address such claims and reframe this discussion, we must first define institutional oppression and provide historical examples.
Institutional oppression is defined as “the systematic mistreatment of people within a social identity group, supported and enforced by the society and its institutions, solely based on the person’s membership in the social identity group.” Such oppression occurs when “established laws, customs, and practices systematically reflect and produce inequities based on one’s membership in targeted social identity groups.” Moreover, “[if] oppressive consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs, or practices, the institution is oppressive whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have oppressive intentions.”
Examples include the apartheid of the twentieth century in South Africa, the Jim Crow laws of the nineteenth and twentieth century, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the Japanese internment camps during World War II. In each of these instances, a government institution oppressed specific people groups by virtue of their ethnicity, some under the guise of safety, others as products of an overtly racist society. This is in stark contrast to the structure of our university.
In addition, blanket statements of “institutional racism” on SPU’s campus do nothing to solve the problem, even if all of the claims of the Unity Petition are true. Such statements lack intellectual integrity—specific instances and individuals can be dealt with appropriately, as can policies that actively discriminate against people, but merely stating the phrase and using it to justify policies that would repress freedom of expression does only harm.
Microaggressions, which have been described by a member of the Justice Coalition as “among the most prevalent and destructive forms of racial injustice” that “chip away at [students of color’s] identity and self-confidence,” vastly differ from the aforementioned instances. Though they have been deemed “coded,” “covert,” and “subtle barbarities,” of which the minority must open the “incorrigible eyes” of their oppressors, most are simply misunderstandings that are the product of a lack of exposure to other cultures. According to the editorial, “[microaggressions are] difficult to confront or prove,” and that only the “racially-conscious” can understand and interpret the hidden nature of this form of oppression. This confines the awareness of racism to anyone who believes they are victims of such. To critique, question, or dissent from such divisive, self-imposed views is “quasi-intellectual” and only reinforces the questioner’s “racial-unconsciousness,” sometime to the point of actual “racism.” (See our post on Racialized Rhetoric).
Members of a self-proclaimed “grace-filled community” who vilify those who do not have the same racial and cultural awareness as themselves are devoid of such virtue. The goal of diversity is to share one’s unique experience with others, not to patronize those who, through no fault of their own, are either misinformed or unfamiliar with the cultural norms of others.
The three of us have varying ethnic, geographic, socioeconomic, and family backgrounds. Throughout our experiences at SPU, we have invested in lasting friendships and activities because of our character, interests, senses of humor, and motivations—because of our personal self—not because of any particular social identifier. Driven to overcome any societal structures that may hinder us, we count our successes relationally, spiritually, academically, and personally as the results of a commitment to excellence, a desire for a future we can create, and a God who relentlessly loves.
To empower persons of the minority, we must first believe in self-empowerment. Our society was built around the intention to reward merit, thoughtfulness, integrity, and diligence in each individual without bias. Although it does not always reach this goal in practice, it always aspires to it. We have seen the results of this aspiration clearly. We have seen the election of our first African-American president, and, in this election cycle alone, we have witnessed two women, two Hispanic-American men, and one African-American man win the hearts and votes of Americans. These are undeniable indicators that times are far from where they have been in the past century alone. There is undoubtedly room for progress, which we actively seek and aim to propose in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, our American society—and our community at SPU—has made substantial leaps forward since the time of Dr. King. The perspective of being perpetually trapped in a racist system to the point that you do not believe in self-empowerment is one that tears people down and leads to frustration and violence. We thank the Justice Coalition for their invaluable role in starting this conversation, but this does not mean that their worldview or policy proposals alone are the ones that can carry the cause of true equality and freedom to completion.
Blanket statements of oppression are dangerous for this campus. Bolstering the idea that minorities merely survive in their time at SPU is dangerous to the ones who thrive on this campus; convincing them that they are is equally atrocious.
The purpose of this movement should be to empower all students to achieve their goals and to have Seattle Pacific facilitate the accomplishment of those endeavors. Accepting language that promotes self-inflicted victimization is inconsistent with the goal of treating individuals as individuals rather than members of a certain racial, ethnic, or social group. For the above reasons, we respectfully dissent from the claims made by the Students for Change, the SPU Justice Coalition, and the Unity Petition.
This is only the third of a longer series of posts which will continue to present our perspective. We believe that a constructive critique presents alternative policy options and we take this responsibility seriously.
Our Statement of Purpose can be viewed here.
See our post concerning the rhetoric of the SPU Justice Coalition and particular individuals here.
The Petition form of our Dissent can be supported here.
Redacted screengrabs of selected responses to the Declaration of Dissent can be viewed here.