University Response to Campus Incident

Presidential Response

The following is university President Robin Baker's address to the university community on Wednesday morning (Sept. 24):

"Many of you may know that an incident occurred on our campus yesterday morning. And I want to take a little time this morning to address this incident. But before I do, I want you to know that this is not a show for the media. So, what I have to share today is meant for you, the George Fox community.

George Fox University was founded in 1891 by Quaker pioneers who fought to end slavery, promote equality and restore peace and justice in our world. And for well over 100 years, this community has been committed to bringing real and positive change to our culture in an effort to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. As a Christian university, we have a dream for an America that is rooted in Christian love and compassion, for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity or political affiliation.

In 1963, another well-known Christian expressed a dream. Most of you have heard or read the famous speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington D.C.  This morning I just want to remind you of some of his dream. He said …

'Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'

We affirm Dr. King’s dream. We live in Oregon in the year 2008, and it has been my dream to develop a university that more broadly represents the Kingdom of God – a place where international students and students from diverse backgrounds come together and work hand in hand to live out the teachings of Jesus in our world. We are all created in the image of God and placed in this world to reflect the character of God.  What we know is that the character and language of God is simple but very difficult to reflect in today’s world. It requires that we are people who express love, grace and mercy towards others.  We work together in a learning environment where we claim to live by the teachings of Jesus.  It is our passion to prepare you to go out and influence the world for Jesus.  That is what we pray for.

The apostle John records Jesus’ words to the disciples this way, John 16:35 – 'Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.'  We cannot hate those around us and say that we love God. It is not possible.

At 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a university employee discovered a life-sized cardboard cutout of Barack Obama attached by fishing line to a tree near Minthorn Hall. A sign which read “Act Six reject” was taped to the cardboard cutout. The employee immediately removed the display.

When I discovered this I was very outraged and disheartened.  I have spent my professional life trying to teach people why it is essential to understand others.  Further, I state boldly to our world that those of us who love Jesus will lead the community in our efforts to serve and love others.  This act causes some to question our commitment.  Whoever put that cardboard piece up yesterday was wrong and I want you to know that I condemn it in the strongest terms. Our Board met and affirmed our commitment to the Act Six program and to making George Fox a place that more broadly represents the Kingdom of God.  We want you to know that what happened yesterday is not proper dialogue on our campus and we will not tolerate such displays.

In the past, George Fox University has had problems recruiting people of diverse backgrounds to our campus.   Like many suburban campuses we have drawn primarily white students to live and study here.  We’ve tried many things to increase our enrollment from individuals from diverse communities but without much success.  Several years ago, following the model developed by Northwest Leadership Foundation, we entered into a partnership to recruit student leaders from the city to join our community. My vision was to bring students here to help us see new perspectives – to create a richer dialogue in our classrooms and in our student life programs to enrich the life of our community.

The good news is that it has worked.  For the first time in the history of George Fox 25 percent of our entering class this year came from diverse backgrounds. We have 17 Act Six students who are fully engaged in our community.  We are becoming the place I believe God has called us to be.  This change will not come without challenges, like yesterday’s, but we will work through them together.

Behind me today are the Act Six students and some of the people who support the mission and calling of Jesus at George Fox University. I want you to understand that I love all of you. You are my brothers and sisters in Christ. What you see up here today is a reflection of what the Kingdom of God will look like in heaven.  John in the Book of Revelations described heaven this way: 'After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb . . . ' We want to be a part of this Kingdom.

Brad Lau, Joel Perez and I met with all of the Act Six students last night to get their input on how we should address this issue with the community. 'We have come here to lead and be involved in serious dialogue about issues that affect our different communities. Let’s talk about this.' And so, together, we chose chapel as the venue to address the community concerning this issue.

What I learned yesterday is that we still have work to do.  We will be continuing our dialogue throughout this year on what it means to be “Simply Christian.”  Yesterday was not a good example of what it means to be Christian.  We are going to have some talk-back sessions about this and I want you to be there.  Brad Lau will let you know when and where these discussions are going to take place.

I want you to do something for me today, tomorrow and for the rest of the term.  Live to show everyone in our community that the person who displayed the cardboard cutout was absolutely wrong in their thinking, and that we find that display unacceptable.   We love people here. We care about justice and quality and we seek after peace.  We value everyone created in the image of God because we live by the words and model the actions of Jesus. Now, go and do likewise."

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