March 1 2018

Solidarity Cabinet’s bulletin board featuring the photographs of influential African-American individuals designed to celebrate Black History Month has been defaced twice. After the first incident, the Solidarity Cabinet restored the board, adding several images that include former president Barack Obama and his family. Between Sunday evening, Feb. 25, and the morning of Monday, Feb. 26, an unknown individual or individuals again defaced the board, this time marring the faces of Barack, Michelle and Malia Obama.

On Monday morning, President Ryken notified the Wheaton campus via email of the defacement of the board, describing it as “unacceptable and offensive.” “Vandalizing Solidarity’s bulletin board — especially during Black History Month — attacks the dignity of people made in the image of God.… It harms the spiritual health of our entire community.” Ryken also said that he had asked Public Safety and Student Development to investigate the incidents.

Rodney Sisco, director of the Office of Multicultural Development, described the incident of the board’s defacement as “a clear living out of an intolerance of some form of difference.” He said, “The minute we are trying to do something that highlights a different cultural context, in this specific case the black culture, there’s this intolerance of it.”

The presentation on the board was designed to celebrate Black History Month. When the board was defaced for the first time earlier in February, some images of notable individuals in black history were ripped off. In their place the vandal wrote: “IF YOU’RE GONNA BE A RADICAL; BE A RADICAL FOR JESUS.” Another comment read, “Question: Angela Davis IS A COMMUNIST. Why would you admire somebody who is anti-God??” Because Lower Beamer lacks cameras and no witnesses have stepped forward, the identity of the vandalizer or vandalizers is currently unknown.

“Somebody somewhere on our campus is intolerant of a conversation about black history and heritage in this being Black History Month,” said Sisco. “It could also be that someone is intolerant of specifically President Obama. But still, here’s a place that is for reflection and looking at ideas, and someone has chosen [to say] ‘no, I’m going to mess that up because it’s okay, because I think I can.’”

The board is maintained by the Solidarity Cabinet, a student-led group that seeks to educate the campus on issues that concern race and race relations according to Kedisha Kelly, one of the group’s advisors who also serves as Student Organizations Associate of student activities. Kelly told the Record that the format of the Solidarity Cabinet board this month was not for conversation on the board itself and was intended strictly for viewing.

“Some would say,‘well, it’s just defacing a bulletin board. Why is that so upsetting?’” Sisco said.

He has seen many frustrated people, including in the Office of Multicultural Development. Sisco spoke of microaggressions, which social scientists use to describe acts of discrimination like prejudiced words said in the classroom, overgeneralizations of a group of people or touching the hair of an African-American without permission.

“It’s a culmination of a series of things that happen,” said Sisco about the unacceptable incidents that have been occurring on campus.

“I never had the n-word directed at me by a white person in Birmingham” said freshman William Creagh. “It happened here on Wheaton College’s campus where the motto is For Christ and His Kingdom.”

At Wheaton College, a white male said to him, “What’s up, my n—–?”

Creagh also told the Record that he has had multiple professors ask him if he plays football. “It was the sense that because I’m a big black man, the only way that I could be here is to play football. When I told them I don’t [play football], they looked perplexed like I’m joking,” he said.

Creagh feels a sense of hypocrisy on campus. Though students are required to attend chapel and worship corporately, he believes people do not approach campus unity corporately.

“1 John 4:20 says if you say you love God but hate your brother who you have seen and say you love God who you have not seen, you are a liar. So, in a sense, [at] Wheaton theologically, we’re lying to ourselves by passively approaching this problem. This is not just a social issue. This is a theological issue.”

Senior Stephen Watts also believes administration and students at Wheaton College often overlook larger issues. He said the Wheaton College’s Community Covenant is widely understood to ban drugs, alcohol and sex, but many important issues are often not addressed.

“Things that actually harm people in the community outside of that are not discussed,” said Watts. “The non-material things need to be emphasized, the stuff that you can’t see. Like how much do you love one another, are you gossiping, that kind of stuff that really harms people needs to matter too.”

According to the Cabinet, “Solidarity … will continue to love with Christ’s spirit. We are to love as Christ loved his betrayers, give of our own comfort as he gave of himself, and grant grace where Christ has already forgiven. As Solidarity, we will continue to educate our community on racial and systemic injustice in this nation and world, even when there is blatant disrespect and discrimination.”

In response to the incidents of defacement, a group of students took action on Tuesday, Feb. 27. Several students from Brian Howell’s anthropology course printed out President Ryken’s email about the vandalism and placed it on every SAGA table so more students would be aware of the issue. The group expanded beyond students in the anthropology course to include a total of eight students. Their message spread quickly to the rest of the student body via GroupMe to include nearly 500 students.

The original group also printed out images of Barack and Michelle Obama and placed them on the forum wall. Freshman Gabriella Glover has been a part of this group that seeks to show lament in response to the acts of racism on campus. She emphasized that the images of the former president and his wife do not seek to make a statement about Obama’s political agenda but rather to remember his importance in black leadership and representation.

They now have printed out posters that advertise #WheatonBlackout. This independent student movement invites students to pray for our campus, have constructive conversations regarding race on campus, lament the acts of vandalism and racism and dress in black on Thursday, March 1.

Freshman Alyssa Miller, who was one of the students in the anthropology course who began the movement, recognized that it will not and does not seek to fix any problems at Wheaton. She said, “[The movement] isn’t something that we want to be attributed to us; it’s something that we want to be attributed to Christ. This is just a symbol of our love and unity with one another in a prayerful and Gospel-focused way of saying: I recognize your suffering and I’m just trying to stand with you and behind you in this.”

When asked why students will specifically be encouraged to wear the color black, freshman Emma Elzinga, one of the eight individuals who originally formed the group, said, “We’re wanting to mourn and lament over these things that are happening on campus.” Bright yellow, for example, would not accurately represent lament, and black is seen to represent mourning and lament in today’s culture. The color itself does not seek to symbolize or allude to race in any form.

Regarding the incident and how Christians should respond, Sisco said, “I think we should be outraged by this type of act.… It’s not pretending I’m colorblind and don’t see difference. It’s acknowledging that there are great differences in us but in those differences we collectively figure out who we are together as the body of Christ. Our anger doesn’t produce sin out of us. Our anger should make us say, ‘I’m really bothered by this. What do we do together?’”