George Fox University Response to 2008 Campus Incident

September 24, 2008

campus lawn

Last updated in February 2009

At 7 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2008, a university employee discovered a life-sized cardboard cutout of Senator Barack Obama suspended by fishing line from a tree near Minthorn Hall. A sign that read “Act Six reject” was taped to the store-bought cardboard cutout. The employee immediately removed it. It is believed that only two students saw the display before it was removed.

Campus Reaction

The display was immediately condemned by the university board of trustees, the president and the student government. President Robin Baker addressed more than 1,200 students and staff the next morning. “We will not tolerate such displays and condemn it in the strongest terms,” he said. “George Fox University is committed to becoming a place that more broadly represents the Kingdom of God – a place where students from diverse backgrounds come together 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.”

An Oregonian editorial (Sept. 25) described the university community as mortified and noted how the incident did not match the university’s Quaker heritage, a tradition that includes leading the Abolitionist movement in the United States and running the underground railroad.

University Responds

The university contacted the Newberg Police, who contacted federal authorities. The FBI opened a preliminary investigation to determine if a federal law has been violated.

On Sept. 24, President Baker faxed an apology letter to Senator Obama.

On Sept. 25, the university held a student forum to discuss race and diversity issues.

On Sept. 26, the university pastor called for a day of prayer and fasting in response to the incident.

On Oct. 3, the university and Portland Central Young Life hosted a Portland forum at Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church to discuss the incident and issues related to racial reconciliation. President Baker and about 100 community members attended.

Incident Update

One week after the display was discovered, the university announced an internal investigation had led to four students who confessed their involvement. President Baker addressed the campus and made a public statement. The university also issued a news release. The students expressed remorse and claimed their message was a political statement about Obama’s qualifications and not an attack on the university’s Act Six scholarship and leadership initiative.

After an internal judicial process, several disciplinary measures were taken —including immediate long-term suspension and community service.

The FBI concluded its investigation. No federal charges were filed.

George Fox Diversity Efforts

Act Six

Act Six is a George Fox scholarship and leadership initiative in partnership with Portland Central Young Life that annually awards full-expense scholarships to as many as 10 student leaders from urban Portland and the surrounding area. The first cohort enrolled in fall 2007. Currently 17 Act Six students are enrolled at George Fox. Most, but not all, are students of color. The Act Six students were informed of the incident at a special meeting on Sept. 23 and helped university administrators plan the initial campus response.

University Background

George Fox University is a Christian university with about 1,700 traditional undergraduates in Newberg. Combined with graduate and adult-degree completion programs, George Fox has an overall enrollment of nearly 3,400. It is the third-largest private college in Oregon.

This fall’s incoming class of first-year undergraduates is the most diverse in university history. Nearly 25 percent identify themselves as non-Caucasian.

In the last two years, the percentage of traditional undergraduates at George Fox who identify themselves as non-Caucasian or international has grown from 15 percent to 20 percent.

George Fox University Diversity Homepage