Columbia Theological Seminary hold protest over treatment of Black staff and studentsColumbia Theological Seminary faculty member Dr. Jeffrey Tribble listens while Rev. John DeLoney, president of the African Heritage Student Association speaks during a student led protest at the seminary’s Decatur campus on Tuesday, June 28, 2022 over the firing of Rev. Samuel White III, a Black administrator who served as the school’s director of admissions and recruitment. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Decatur, GA — The African Heritage Student Association at Columbia Theological Seminary held a protest on Tuesday, June 28, to raise awareness about the treatment of Black students and staff at the school.
Protest organizers say the issue is affecting recruitment at the school, with incoming students rethinking their commitments and looking elsewhere.
Students organized following the unexpected firing of Rev. Samuel White III, a Black administrator who served as Director of Admissions and Recruitment. CTS fired White and notified the campus community via email on June 21, the day after the Juneteenth holiday was observed.
This isn’t the first time the seminary has faced questions about how it treats students of color. In 2019, CTS students protested after the seminary closed the Office of International Programs, which serves international students.
The students want CTS President Leanne Van Dyk, who leaves at the end of July, to resign as president effective immediately and want Jane Fahey to resign as chair of the school’s Board of Trustees. The students want the seminary to rehire White, and to create an independent advisory board overseeing the president’s council. When Dyk leaves, she will be replaced by a person of color, Rev. Dr. Victor Aloyo. Members of AHSA worry he will be undermined by the current administration before he takes over.
On June 29, officials at CTS sent an email from Van Dyk to organizers saying their concerns are being heard.
“The seminary will have more to say in the future, but Dr. Fahey and I wanted to affirm now that your concerns have been heard and our shared values will be our guidepost as we move forward,” the email says.
But two of the organizers — Leo Allen, vice present of the Student Government Association and Rev. John DeLoney, president of AHSA — said the email did not convince them CTS is taking their concerns seriously.
“It’s a very stale, canned response,” Allen said. “A very lackluster email, nothing of substance in it.”
DeLoney said if CTS wanted to show it cares about students’ concerns, the email sent on Wednesday doesn’t accomplish that.
“When they talk about bringing people together, and treating people better, this is not the way we do it,” DeLoney said. “As far as I’m concerned we’re at the same point.”
In an earlier press conference, DeLoney said the firing of White and the treatment of Black students is part of a “Blacklash.”
“Columbia got too black, too fast, and now we’re facing a Blacklash,” DeLoney said. “I believe Rev. Sam White is a victim of the Blacklash from all of the students of color coming to Columbia.”
Allen said with students reconsidering their enrollment, it’s important for CTS officials to move with urgency to address students’ concerns.
“This is determinantal beyond us,” Allen said. “It’s detrimental for the students.”
Update: In response to this article, Columbia Theological Seminary sent the following press release:
Columbia Theological Seminary is sensitive to students’ concerns over the departure of Rev. Samuel White. However, out of respect for the privacy of all current and former employees and consistent with our policies, we do not comment on personnel matters.
We are confident we’ve stayed true to our mission to nurture faithful and effective leaders as well as conduct school business in a carefully considered, forthright, and equitable manner.
For the record, the institution enjoys a diverse faculty, staff, and students, and we remain committed to delivering the same excellent educational opportunities for which Columbia Theological Seminary is known.
A Snapshot of Columbia Seminary: Diversity Facts and Commitments in Campus Life
Columbia Seminary celebrates a diverse faculty, student body, and leadership. People of color comprise 44% of the faculty, 37% of the staff, and 31% of the Board of Trustees. The student population overall is 7% Asian, 36% African American, 39% white, and 4% Hispanic, unknown or identifies as multi-racial. Another 14% are international, including students from 14 countries in East and South Asia, the Middle East, South America, and the African Continent. *
*race / ethnicity is not tracked for non-US citizens or permanent residents
Student organizations and resources for students:
Columbia Seminary recognizes, affirms and supports student organizations including African Heritage Student Association (AHSA), Asian Student Association (ASA), Fellowship for Theological Discussion (FTD), Hispanic and Latinx Association (HALA), Imago Dei (promotes welcome and inclusion of all people, especially those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies), International Student & Scholar Services, Korean American Ministries, Shaping Attention to God’s Earth (SAGE), Seminary Families, Student Government Association, and Women in Ministry.
About 40 percent of Columbia’s overall scholarship assistance over the last three academic years was given through the William Thomas Catto Scholarship announced in the seminary’s Repairing the Breach Commitment of 2020. This scholarship fully funds the cost of tuition and student fees for Black students who apply and are admitted to the seminary’s Masters degree programs. As a result of Columbia Seminary’s institutional commitment to Repairing the Breach, 70% of students in the entering class of 2021-22 identify as African American
The Becoming Project represents the overarching vision of Columbia Theological Seminary to become a more faithful, just, and equitable community. In 2020, constituents of Columbia met in caucus groups to provide input on their experience and perceptions. In October 2020, the Transformative Community Conference was held to bring the community together to focus on that input and envision new ways of being together.
LGBTQIA+ Statement of Inclusion
In 2022, Columbia’s faculty and administration approved an official Statement of Inclusion celebrating, welcoming, and embracing our LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
As a seminary affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), Columbia welcomes and affirms LGBTQIA+ persons in all roles and ministries of the church and our community. Columbia strives to create and maintain safe learning spaces; intimidation, rejection, and judgment are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
Beyond the targeted financial assistance to Black students as a result of the Repairing the Breach commitment, all Columbia students receive generous tuition support that empowers their future ministries.
In addition, in 2022 the seminary announced the creation of the Working Scholars Program for part-time and other students, to further expand access and support the educational goals of our diverse student body.
Intercultural Teaching and Learning
As part of its Pathways for Tomorrow initiative, the seminary has dedicated $189,420 in grant funding from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. to enhancing the faculty’s capacity for curricular innovation in intercultural teaching and learning for a diverse church.
Oversight and Leadership
Columbia’s President and Administration function under the strategic direction and oversight of an independent Board of Trustees that is intentionally diverse denominationally, vocationally, and racially. This is consistent with Columbia’s Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, IRS requirements, and best practice for freestanding private educational institutions.
Here are more photos from Tuesday’s protest:
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