READ: The Full Text of Union College's Apology for Past Racism

(Spectrumbot) #1

In January 2014, Dr. Mark Robison, professor of English at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, was making preparations for an original Union College drama “Fifty Years After,” commemorating the fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech. Robison had invited Oscar Harriott, his friend and deputy ombudsman at the Nebraska State Capitol, to tell stories about “the bad old days.” Harriott, a Lincoln resident, told the actors and writers stories about his time at Union College--both shocking and inspiring.

One week after sharing his accounts with the "Fifty Years After" crew, Harriott told his story to an audience of about 200 listeners at the 2014 MLK weekend event at Union College, produced jointly by the “Fifty Years After” crew and the UC Conflict and Peacemaking class taught by Union College Associate Professor of English and Communication Chris Blake. After Harriott's on-campus address in which he described the racist attitudes and actions that he and his family endured at Union College from the 1940's to the 1960s, Blake's peacemaking class decided to create an official apology from Union College.

Josh Ayala, Susy Gomez, Sean Hendrix, and Stefani Leeper, all students in the peacemaking class, wrote the initial draft of the apology letter. Blake says that after many revisions with input from class members and a circulated petition of support, the letter of apology was sent in April to Union College President’s Council with the ultimate goal of approval by the college's Board of Trustees.

John Wagner, the Union College president at the time the letter was first drafted and circulated, supported the initiative, but was hesitant to add his presidential weight to the initiative because he planned to retire in June. In May, Union College named Southern Adventist University vice president for strategic initiatives Dr. Vinita Sauder the successor to Wagner. Sauder gave the initiative her full support.

In response to a request for comment, Sauder wrote,

The letter of apology for racial discrimination was written by students in our Conflict and Peacemaking class and was working its way through our administrative approval process when I arrived on campus last summer. While I was not a part of the writing process, I support the goals of this letter and recommended that both the President’s Council and the Board of Trustees endorse its message.

On February 9 of this year, after Dr. Sauder and Mid-America Union President Tom Lemon added their support, Oscar Harriott, Josh Ayala, Kyle Berg, and Chris Blake present the proposal to the Union College Board of Trustees. The board overwhelmingly approved the document, Blake said.

Sauder noted that Union College today is a "vibrant, diverse community of students and faculty from all over the United States and nearly 30 countries." But like many institutions, she pointed out, the Union College of fifty years ago and more "felt the cold shadow of racial discrimination," and some alumni still hold memories of those injustices. The letter, for Sauder, is the beginning of healing.

This letter is a step closer to closing old wounds and a reminder that we serve a God who does not see color or nationality, but the equal and precious value of every one of His children. And what a great way for our students to learn to be effective Christian citizens—through studying our past and seeking ways to build a better future.

The text of Union College's formal letter of apology, first posted on the Union College website, appears below in its entirety.

Dear Union College Alumni:

We are honored to join with students in the Conflict and Peacemaking class who are leading a college initiative to apologize to alumni who suffered racial discrimination at Union College in the past. As our college reflects upon the apex of the U.S. civil rights movement on Martin Luther King, Jr. Days and other notable events, there have been times when disturbing stories have emerged. Union College acknowledges the harm that racial segregation practices and other exclusivist and demeaning behaviors inflicted on many of its students in the past. At these times, our school did not model Christianity and instead deeply wounded many of you. To those who suffered from all such unfair acts, the college offers its sincerest regrets and apologies.

At the entrance of the administration building hangs a model of Union’s clock tower with golden cords extending to places around the world. The golden cords stand for service, love, and unity. It is our deepest desire that the cords cut between us be reconnected. We ask humbly that you forgive the institution of Union College for the wrongs committed against you. Peacemaking is not only achieved individually but also by actively working together through dialogue, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Today, Union College is an institution of diversity and unity. Our students come from all over the world; they speak different languages and carry unique cultural backgrounds. Though we as a campus community are not perfect, each student is respected regardless of gender, race, or culture. We aspire to follow Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.”

While much has gone into making Union College a better place, it does not change what happened in the past. We ask for the opportunity to build a new relationship. History often repeats itself and the world tends to forget its past, but we will not allow these echoes of discrimination and humiliation to go unheard. Your pain was real; your voice is valued. May the golden cords of harmony and friendship connect us closer to one another. As Christians, we seek to share our love with you, bringing peace as one body of Christ.

Thank you for the time you spent at Union College, for blessing us with your presence, and for enriching us and helping us to change. Thank you for striving to make our school a place of freedom and unity.


Josh Ayala, Susy Gomez, Stefani Leeper and Sean Hendrix Students who drafted the original letter in Conflict and Peacemaking Class.

Vinita Sauder, President, Union College

Tom Lemon, Chair, Union College Board of Trustees

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Elaine Nelson) #2

As a freshman at Union in 1943 and living there four years, racism was practiced at the college. Before leaving, the college did accept a few African-American men, no women at that time. The men were not allowed to live in the dorm but housing in homes around campus were found for them.

But the most glaring illustration can still be found in the yearbook for '47 or '48. Previous yearbooks had pictured the students by classes and alphabetically. But the yearbook mentioned above had the students in no alphabetical order with the African-Americans all at the end. Even we students from the South were shocked to see such gross discrimination and voiced objections; but of course it was too late.

That was so long ago I am unable to locate the yearbook but I’m sure that the college has all yearbooks in their files.

(Mark Carr) #3

If I am not mistaken the picture used in the heading of this post was taken on the day of Dr. King’s address at the Lincoln memorial. I have a book of MLKing quotes, given to me by David L. Taylor, with a picture in it taken on that same day. In the crowd is an ADRA van. I wanted to be sure, so I got out my magnifying glass and sure enough, there is an ADRA van in the midst of the crowd. I was proud of my church at that moment. I am proud of my church in the expression of this letter from Union College. While I am occasionally embarrassed by my church as well, today I can celebrate this moment.

I wonder, does anyone reading along here on Spectrum, or anyone you know of, have any knowledge of who was in the ADRA van on that momentous day? It would be such a story to hear and rehearse amongst us.


According to the ADRA website the name ADRA came to be in 1983.
Sorry to disappoint.

“By the mid-1970s, the organization began to broaden its mission from disaster relief into programs leading to long-term development. In 1983 SAWS underwent yet another name change to better reflect its overall mission and activities, becoming the “Adventist Development and Relief Agency” (ADRA).”

(Tihomir Odorcic) #5

Maybe that could help:
Though I see no reference to previous uses of the ADRA acronym.


I find it puzzling that people who had nothing to do with the administration of the college way back when apologizes for something in which they were not complicit.

I have to assume that almost anyone who may have been affected are already gone.

Exactly what are the reasons and benefits of what may be just a pro forma exercise?

(Bille) #7

Obviously you did not read either the lead article or the one preceding this which gave very explicit “reasons and benefits” of what is much, much more than any “pro forma exercise”. Since you “assumed” rather than informed yourself, you have succeeded in insulting and further injuring those who are still alive who were gravely insulted and injured back then, and who still bear the open wounds that are still acerbated daily in today’s society… as well as in our church… by uncaring, insensitive remarks such as you have made.

Please inform yourself by reading the material presently available on Spectrum magazine and Spectrum conversation. We shall choose to believe that at heart you are not so heartless as you sound (Excessive. - website editor) and thus will return fairly promptly and make an appropriate apology of your own.

(Mark Carr) #8

Hmmmm…my book is packed in moving boxes right now so I can’t pull it out. What were the old names of local church agencies of the same sort? The Dorcas Society? Adventist Community Services? I’m certain of the picture, so I must just have the name wrong.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #9

The apology was in order. But in the Christian ethos, so is foregiveness. I recall our first weekend in Georgia we drove out to the nearest State Park made ourselves comfortable, when a state patrol car pulled up beside us and motioned for me to come to the car, which I did. the black officer said. "By the power of the govenor of the State of Georgia, I am to unform you that you are trespassing on State property designed strictly for the black people of Geotgia, Your park is 10 miles North East, please leave immediately. I said, Thank you officer, but as you can see from my license plates we are very recently from California and we didn’t know there was a difference. ten years later that park was given to the County of Columbia, Geirgia and both campgrounds were integrated.

Now both the county police and the park police are integrated.

apologies may be due for sure. but let us live each day that apologies will not be necessary for our Grandchildren. At this moment the black on black crime far exceeds white on black crime or discrimination in Georgia. Tom Z


If I were the moderator I would tag your remarks as excessive and insulting.

(Steve Mga) #11

A number of years ago there was a PBS series titled EYE ON THE PRIZE.
In the part that discusses the High School Integration there are interviews and responses made by the students prior to going off to high school the next day escorted by armed guards.
One of the boys interviewed was a Seventh day Adventist black student. He stated so during the interview.
If he is still alive it would be of interest to have a first hand description of what it meant that day.

The series is available at my Public Library System, dont know about yours. I saw it when it was 1st televised.
Were any black SDAs involved in any of the Civil Rights Events – buses, marching, dog attacks, water hosed, beaten, shot at, relatives murdered, hung, shot? Would be of interest to hear their stories.

(jeremy) #12

oscar harriett must have given quite a powerful presentation at the 2014 mlk wknd event to inspire an entire class of young people who can know nothing about “the bad old days” to pen a formal apology on behalf of their school that the whole school could accept and agree to release…perhaps a series of presentations on a larger scale by those with firsthand knowledge is what is needed to broach the subject of regional and state conference integration, assuming intergration is viable and desirable to sufficient interests on both sides…

(Elaine Nelson) #13

It is astonishing in questioning young college students today and the letters and remarks they make to the press that they have little or almost no information about the 20th century’s history. They are quite knowledgeable about early history and they also are quite naive about how the U.S. government functions.

It has been suggested that the U.S. should have mandatory voting for all its citizens, as does Australia. But they should have to qualify much the same as do immigrants who have to study the U.S. government and Constitution before becoming a naturalized citizen. Something is unequal about that requirement.

(Elaine Nelson) #14

Web Ed what gives? Attempting to write a comment, a screen pops up with “this is just like your last comment” and prevents posting. But it is entirely different and an entirely different topic!

(I’m sorry, I have no idea. I’m not really a commenter so don’t have much experience using Discourse as a user. Perhaps others who comment regularly have seen this and can explain. - website editor)

(Ben Kreiter) #15

I remember every year being disappointed when the school year would end sometime around the World Wars. Most history classes have a lot of material to cover and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the lack of knowledge regarding recent history has to do with many students never getting to the end of the book year after year.

(Bille) #16

Just perhaps… if you are capable of feeling insulted… then you may be also capable of putting yourself in the shoes of someone else and if you were to do that… perhaps you would take a little more care with what you say and how you say it.

Perhaps… but then… perhaps not also. I could be wrong about that… as I have been about other things…

(Bille) #17

It’s OK, Elaine. the system bot doesn’t read… it only counts… and when you’ve passes your allotted number of “likes” for the day… or when you reply to more than a few posts in a row… it pops up and complains. But fortunately, in the latter case it only makes its little speech and disappears when you ignore it. So… carry on… :sunny:

(Elaine Nelson) #18

Thanks, I felt it was all automatic.


Could one modify it by saying “as I have been about many other things”?

I find your lecturing as inappropriate and condescending. I don’t see that there is any profit in further discussion.

(Sirje) #20

Obviously, US history reveals a horrendous wrong done to a whole segment of its citizens through blatant disrespect; but I can sort of agree with “Searching”.

I came to this country at the age of nine, totally oblivious of racial differences and the history behind it. In the lower grades in the US schools I saw nothing terrible going on with racial discrimination. (At least, I wasn’t aware of it.) In the SDA college I attended there was black white and in-between all mixed up and, to my knowledge, getting along. If there was racial tension, it was behind the scenes and out of my view. I had friends of both races, without question. Since those days, the need for apologies has surfaced in all sectors of society, and I feel an injustice to myself, when I have to apologize for something I had absolutely no part in.

These racial issues are being kept alive by a continual reference to them. In an effort to rectify discrimination we have made apologies for the historic treatment of African-American people, but have also minimized, and in my opinion, insulted them by giving African-Americans lower expectations in qualifications for schools and jobs. By bending backwards to include this segment of our population, we are keeping alive the separation. The only way to be inclusive and unbiased, is to be inclusive and unbiased - without distinction of any kind. Instead of having “Black history month”, why not have a “multicultural month”, celebrating the melting pot that is the character and the strength of the - United States of America - or could be.

The whole world owes somebody and apology - whites to blacks; blacks to whites; Catholics to protestants; Protestants to Catholics; Christians to Muslims, and Muslims to everybody else. In my own personal experience, I am owed an apology by Russia and Germany as they plundered my home-land, killing and exiling its people. How far back should we go with the apologies?