On Wednesday evening, March 3, Niels-Erik Andreasen, president of Andrews University, issued an apology for an article that appeared in Andrews’ official student newspaper, The Student Movement. The article, written by Andrews student Nathan Davis, appeared in the February 25 edition of the Student Movement and was entitled “On Black History Month.” Davis, who identified himself in the article as “raceless,” questioned the helpfulness of Black History Month, and suggested that the month reinforces a false notion that there is a difference between the races.
Davis stated that people should be indifferent and apathetic toward the color of their skin, rather than being either proud or ashamed. The article concluded by posing the question, “Why don’t we have Redneck History Month, or Mohammedan History Month, or Midget History Month? There are a lot of groups which have been discriminated against…but we shouldn’t set aside an entire month just to discuss each oppressee. We should expand Black History Month into ‘Anti-Stereotyping Month,’ and we should expect and pressure historians and history teachers to start giving more well-rounded retellings of the past.”
Responses to the article were swift and severe. Students took to social media to express their hurt and frustration over what many viewed as an ignorant and naïve piece of writing.
Eliel Cruz, a senior at Andrews University and freelance journalist, posted the article to his Facebook and Twitter accounts, saying, “One of the most tone deaf pieces I've ever read on race, of course written and published on my campus. Absolutely shameful.” The article soon went viral, with Adventist and non-Adventists alike weighing in and describing the article as, “awful,” “clueless,” and “heartbreaking.”
In addition to pointing out the problematic statements made about Black History Month, other students were quick to point out the derogatory terms used to describe rural Southerners, Muslims and Little People (individuals with Dwarfism).
On March 3, the Student Movement announced via its Facebook page, “We have been hearing your hurt and anger over Nathan Davis's article ‘On Black History Month’ and would like to give you a forum to express your frustrations.” Readers were encouraged to write in and share their thoughts.
In the March 4 edition of the Student Movement, two full pages were devoted to these responses, which included a formal apology from the Editor-in-Chief, and letters to the editor from alumni, faculty/staff, and current students.
Justin Smith reminded readers of the purpose of Black History Month in his response:
Black History Month was designed to: 1. Praise the otherwise ignored or marginalized achievements Blacks have made in the respective countries of America, Canada, the UK, and Germany. 2. Educate all on the history of Black people. 3. Providing and instilling pride into Black people.”
Sasha Thompson, a Senior Psychology major, added,
I would like [the author] to know that I cannot simply ignore my ‘blackness’….One’s blackness has nothing to do with celebrating a month that highlights overcoming racial oppression and racial injustice. Black History month is not just a month where only blacks come together. Everyone comes together….Every day of the year, we wake up black. We do not choose when to take off our ‘blackness’ and become ‘raceless.’ While we get to celebrate our ‘blackness’ every day, you only get to hear about it for twenty eight days. For so many years of slavery and oppression, I say we deserve twenty eight days to celebrate publicly.”
Responses have continued to pour in. Some students shared their thoughts with Spectrum directly. Esther Battle, a sophomore sociology student, wrote in an email,
I don't think the author was trying to be intentionally racist, but I do think the article expressed a very clear discomfort with the celebration of blackness and black culture. I have a hard time believing that he's so detached that he had no idea people would take offense at his article.
Was it offensive? Definitely. As a black person it is always hurtful when people deny our experience. The discrimination we experience is real. And we celebrate our blackness because it's been questioned and put down for generations. I've heard so many black people who grew up not wanting to be black, who had to learn to love themselves, and his statement that we shouldn't do that, that we shouldn't celebrate who we are, was offensive, and flat out wrong.
Junior social work major Oviri Duado wrote to Spectrum,
Ever since I was a little girl I never saw anything good about being black. There were multiple times where I wished I was anything but black. I felt ugly and unworthy. The saddest part is when I talk to other black female students now about this subject we are share the same sad story. Society has told us time and time again exactly what they think of black people, but more importantly black women. Black women are loud, ghetto, unattractive, and unwanted. Luckliy I have grown and I am in a place where I can truly say I love the color of my skin and everything that comes with.
So for Nathan Davis to say, "Why the emphasis on 'blackness' in the first place? People shouldn't be proud of the shade of their skin, though of course people shouldn't be ashamed of it either," angered me to my very core. How dare he say I shouldn't be proud of who I am. Its easy for him to say that when he gets a pass in life just based on the color of his skin. He's never been on the receiving end of racial profiling nor will he ever have to hear things like, "you're pretty for a black girl," or "you speak well for a black person."
Alice Chelbegean, a senior nursing student said in an email message,
My roommate and I had a long talk about the article when it was published. We got really riled up about how blatantly and ignorantly anti-minority it was. I’m White, and she’s Black, and while we have had discussions about race before, this article was great fodder for conversation because it so thoroughly demonstrated what ignorance and Privilege looks like.
I am becoming increasingly aware of the privileges that, as a white, middle class woman, I have inherited from this Western society. It is obvious to me that Nathan Davis is neither aware of his privilege, nor comprehending of the concept of “White Privilege” as a whole. He definitely demonstrated the meaning of it, though.
It was nice to see apologies published in the Student Movement the week after the problematic article was published, but I did note the absence of the original author’s apology. It would be nice if he acknowledged his ignorance on the topic of BHM, and showed that he was willing to listen to his reader’s opinions on the topic.
Attempts to contact Nathan Davis for this story were unsuccessful.
The controversy surrounding the article grew heated enough that some suggested it reflected badly on Andrews University as a whole, which elicited a response from the university's top administrator. On Wednesday evening, President Andreasen emailed the campus community regarding the article. His letter, in its entirety, follows:
You’ve perhaps read, or heard about, an opinion piece about Black History Month celebrations that was printed in last week’s issue of our student newspaper, The Student Movement.
It has led to significant discussion on our campus and in social media, a discussion that has reflected dismay and, at times, outrage, about the views expressed by the student in the article. In turn, these discussions have raised questions about whether the views expressed in that opinion piece reflected a larger attitude about race and diversity on the part of the University and its administration.
The student newspaper is and should be a place where honest conversation about ideas can take place—including differing opinions about subjects that matter to us. However, the conclusions reached in this opinion piece were clearly at odds with the values of our University community on this subject. Our Student Movement editor has recognized this and has published an apology in the March 4th edition of the student newspaper.
Even with a commitment to open dialogue and differing opinions, the article does not reflect the opinions and attitudes of our campus as a whole, and in particular the ideals we ultimately seek to achieve as a diverse community. The fact that we are still seeking to achieve these ideals, and that some may question our commitment to do so, is a reminder that discussions about race and equality are not fully resolved in our country and, in turn, are not fully resolved on our campus.
At Andrews University, this yet to be fulfilled ideal of true cultural and racial understanding is a specific and assigned task for our Diversity Council, who must study, struggle with and help our University community define a path that helps us move forward. We as individuals, and as a community, still have goals to achieve and an important road to travel in this regard.
As we continue on this journey, I want to let you know that we remain fully committed to understanding and best fulfilling God’s plans and purposes to serve as a globally and culturally diverse community that’s dedicated to changing the world for Him—and to seek to first fulfill that task on our very own campus.
Alisa Williams is Spirituality Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org. Additional reporting by Jared Wright.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6677