ULS Student Statement Concerning Racism
United Lutheran Seminary | Gettysburg + Philadelphia
April 5, 2018
Bishop Jim Dunlop, Acting President of ULS
Cheryl Williams, Acting Chair of the Board of Trustees
ULS Board of Trustees
The Rev. Dr. J. Jayakiran Sebastian, Dean and Professor of Mission and Cultures
Subject: ULS Student Statement Concerning Racism
We are blessed in our diversity at United Lutheran Seminary. We are proud to be the most diverse seminary in the ELCA, in terms of race, sexuality, age, and denomination. We implore our administration and faculty to listen to each and all of these marginalized voices as together we build this new institution. ULS has every gift it needs to be an authentic, Spirit-filled and inclusive seminary. However, we the students witness significant and ongoing obstacles that prevent the fulfillment of this dream.
The signers of this statement are united in supporting and standing up for students who are marginalized and left unheard, and at this time specifically students of color are hurting. We are profoundly disappointed that the speed with which the Board of Trustees addressed recent trauma and scandal has not been matched when they have been consistently presented with the voices of our students of African descent. We seek to reveal and confront the ongoing reality of institutional racism experienced at ULS. Our mission is not to simply make this a place that hears the voices of all, but a community that is willing to work together in an effort to create a safe space for all.
May it be clearly stated that those of us in the ULS community who are white fully acknowledge and repent of the sin of racism which we too have committed, both through what we have done and left undone. We have caused real anguish and pain. In the same way that faith ought to produce good works, our having heard the cries of our siblings should produce action. Therefore as united students we lift up the following areas where inclusion is obstructed and acts of prejudice are committed. (1) The prejudiced and alienating behavior of some faculty, staff and administration, as well as the lack of diversity in full-time faculty. (2) The bias exhibited in ULS curricula and class scheduling. (3) Unequal opportunities presented to Lutheran students of African descent. (4) Perhaps the most pointed complaint, the exclusionary culture of our chapel spaces.
(1) Students of African descent, colleagues of color and white students decry all who either intentionally or accidentally embody racial prejudice. Comments, jokes, and other “tone deaf” micro-aggressions from some faculty reveal ignorance and create unsafe classrooms. Continuing to force students to endure this is unacceptable. The signers of this statement ask for the hiring of an outside agency to facilitate equity and anti-racism training, practices and experiences for the whole community on a semi-annual basis. Any outside consultancy engaged in this work must not include former or current staff, faculty, or board members of ULS.
In addition, despite the existing and celebrated diversity among adjunct and full-time faculty teaching at our seminary, we call on ULS to further diversify and integrate its teaching staff. There must be more full-time professors of color teaching core courses and serving in positions of curricular leadership.
(2) The class scheduling of ULS is implicitly biased against commuting students—a preponderance of whom are students from Black Church traditions. Current course scheduling presupposes residential students with flexible daytime schedules. The dueling schedules of the “night classes” vs. “the ‘regular’ time classes” creates the dangerous potential to institutionalize classroom segregation.
The students acknowledge that some classes have a weak and uncreative integration of diverse theological voices in syllabi (both course structure and reading material). We acknowledge the curricular concern that Lutheran students be exposed to Lutheran theology, but there are numerous global and American Lutheran scholars of color. Moreover, a well-rounded education that is reflective of the ongoing views of Christ’s Church cannot be limited to white or European scholarship.
We also give voice to the complaints of students of color from Philadelphia that intensives must be offered where a majority of students may safely access these course offerings. A number of Philadelphia campus’ African-descent students have experienced racial prejudice travelling in rural America. This makes them feel unsafe, emotionally and physically. Further, a majority of Philadelphia students commute, work, have children, and/or lead ministries. This does not allow them to relocate to Gettysburg for a full week. We request that more intensives be scheduled in Philadelphia to meet these needs.
(3) The signers of this statement lift up significant disparities between white Lutherans and African-descent Lutherans. The most pointed obstacles facing African-descent Lutherans comes in ministerial leadership and immersion sites. Current offerings do not provide enough African-descent site supervisors, opportunities for multicultural congregational experiences or immersion sites in communities that authentically embrace diversity.
(4) The most painful site of racial exclusion comes in our chapel spaces. Students have heard often that a Lutheran seminary should provide worship in a predominantly Lutheran key. We vehemently maintain that liturgical uniformity from a Lutheran confessional position is decidedly not necessary for the unity of the Church, the Word to be rightly preached, or for the Sacraments to be rightly administered. Excluding African-descent students, Black Church traditions, and students of color from denominations in full communion agreements with the ELCA exhibits racial prejudice, a lack of hospitality and an appalling denominational insecurity.
A Dean of Chapel must recognize their power and function as a cultural gatekeeper. An anti-racist Dean of Chapel will acknowledge their privilege (be it white, male, cis, straight, or Lutheran) and work to break down any barriers that exclude African-descent students and culture in chapel. As it stands now, many students of color witness to actions and attitudes that have created an intensely unsafe and unwelcoming environment in the chapel on the Philadelphia campus.
We therefore request a significant restructuring of all chapel leadership and planning. We are confident that faculty and administration, with the leadership and help of students of color, can easily create equitable and welcoming worship spaces that represent the ecumenical and diverse nature of our community.
In conclusion, we the signers of this statement are deeply grieved by the ongoing hurt our peers of color have been forced to endure. However, ULS is still poised to achieve great things and we know that the Spirit is moving in our midst. Though many of us feel hurt, tired, and ignored we confess with Paul that all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ...” (Rom 8:14-17).
We implore the Acting President and the Board of Trustees to take this opportunity to make it clear that they have heard the voices of their students by acting to rectify our pain and these injustices.
Through the Spirit of God we are your,
Students of United Lutheran Seminary
Email addresses will not be released publicly. You may choose to sign anonymously or make this signing part of your public theological witness. Your Name/title: (Pat Smith, Mdiv '20)
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