Union College Formally Apologizes for Racial Discrimination in The School's Past


(Spectrumbot) #1

Kyle Berg is a senior language arts student at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, and in early February, he nervously stood before Union's Board of Trustees to address the school's racist past. Berg wrote for The Clocktower, Union's official student paper,

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Union College participated in racial discrimination and segregation on campus. My point was that Union did take part in this, and my part was to insist that a formal apology be made by the college.

Union College has made headlines lately with the acrobatics accident and slow recovery of student Heather Boulais and the election and upcoming inauguration of its first woman president, Vinita Sauder. Union also received a $2 million donation from Florida's Adventist Health Systems to underwrite the Adventist Health System Endowed Chair of Business Administration. The apology for past descrimination is headline material of a more precarious nature.

Adventism in North America, especially, has a fairly well-documented history with racism. The discord racism has caused the church bubbled to the surface again in the wake of a sermon by Pastor Dwight Nelson of the Pioneer Memorial Church at Andrews University. Seen by many as a move to do away with regional conferences, the sermon evoked a Town Hall-style response from leaders in the Allegheny East Conference.

For Kyle Berg, the way to reconciliation began with admission of wrong and formal apology, and on February 9, he got precisely that from Union College's trustees. He said that it became apparent such a statement was needed after hearing stories from Union's alumni who had experienced discrimination. Berg heard from several alumni, and after conducting research, went to the board for action.

After the Board of Trustees heard about the research, process and most importantly Harriott’s stories, they voted to approve the formal apology letter on February 9, only a little less than a year later.

Read Kyle Berg's Clocktower article entitled "Union College Takes a Step Forward."

For a longer version of Berg's research, see "Racial Discrimination and Segregation at Union College from the 1930s to the 1960s," which won the 2014 Union College Board of Trustees Writing Award for Expository Writing.

Jared Wright is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6669

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

I was totally unaware of racial bigotry at Emmanuel a Missionary College. I worked one side of a corn row while Dr Ford to be worked the other. Berrien Springs was an entirely different matter. Black farm hands could be in down town Berrien in day light hours, if the stores were open…At sun down they all had better be out of town, preferably in Berrien Center about four miles away.

at the college there was far more discrimination between majors. Pre med and theology dominated. Tom Z.


(Bille) #3

Thank you Jared Wright for this excellent essay that showcases Kyle Berg’s fantastic research and action oriented work!

I hope many here do read the two papers by Kyle Berg… both the Watchtower report as well as his award winning Senior Project paper. He is to be congratulated on his modeling for the rest of the church just how to address the lingering problem of Racial Discrimination… both in our church and in our communities.

(I’m still unable to give “Likes”… but here are some substitute hearts and a few thumbs up!)

:heart: :heartpulse: :heartbeat:

:+1: :+1: :+1: :+1: :+1:

YOU GO KYLE!


(Aage Rendalen) #4

It would be interesting to know when the Review published its first mention of Martin Luther King. I would be surprised if the Civil Rights Movement got any positive SdA press during the 60s or 70s. When I came to SMC in 1973 the school had only been desegregated for three years. That fall I attended the annual SMC-Oakwood campmeeting in which Agatha Thrash warned that milk and sugar ingested together could create fermentation and induce intoxication in humans. Not a word was every said about the long shadow of institutional racism that hung over the very venue. Not even sainted H.M.S. Richards, the featured speakers, was indelicate enough to bring up such a shameful past.


(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #5

Appalling history, Aage. I had no idea that SMC had been segregated, much less that it’d remained segregated for so long. Was this combined campmeeting a result of desegregation or something older?


(Aage Rendalen) #6

I don’t know when this annual camp meeting tradition started, whether during segregation or in 1970, when the last hold-outs, such as SMC, were forced, by the Supreme Court, to desegregate.

When it came to aparteid, the General Conference ventured into moral territory and condemned South African segregation as it was crumbling, but when it came to home-grown racism, the church didn’t risk being even five minutes ahead of the truth, even though some conferences and unions were.

A black friend, Jon Michael Harris, years ago told me about the day he and his family came to Forest Lake Academy to register in the late 1960s. As we walked into the busy gym where registration was taking place, he said, a hush fell upon the place as all heads turned towards this alien Adventist family from Georgia that had the nerve to enter this sanctuary of whiteness. Eventually, the Christians of the South would embrace the Gospel, but it took a long time, and Adventists were no different. They wouldn’t dream of eating bacon or going to church on Sunday, but accepting the idea that everybody was created in the image of God–that was a tough one.


(Winona Winkler Wendth) #7

I am surprised that this was not common knowledge. Any Anglo-American with a large group of African-American friends would know this.


(Elaine Nelson) #8

A personal story. I was a freshman at Union college in 1943, straight from the South, the first time out of the deep South since childhood. My fiancee at the time (later husband) was also from the South, and it was the first time for him, also.

There were no African-American students visible. Not until a year or two later were a limited few males admitted; they could not live in the dorm but and were given separate living accommodations in homes in the area. They were segregated in the dining hall, also. One student, I recall, was a great ball player, later to be a med student, I believe. It was against school policy for interracial dating.

The year book for 1948 was edited by a female student, later to become one of the first female elders of the church. The pitures of students had always been in alphabetical order, but for the first time, this was not done. They were all apparently mixed up with no particular order except that all the African-American students were listed the very last.

We two southern students and others protested loudly of such blatant, published discrimination, but of course it was too late by then. I cannot locate that year book, but I challenge Kyle to look it up to see if this 1948 year book is still available, as it should be. See if it does not conform to what I have written. I do not know when this policy was formally changed, but it was continuing when we left there.


(Elaine Nelson) #9

Bille: it’s Clock Tower, not Watch Tower (a JW’s pamphlet). :wink:


(George Tichy) #10

And man,… the way to go is still way too long even today…

One would think that this one of the fruits of the Spirit - racial equality, repudiation of discrimination (race, color, gender, etc) - would be easily manifested among Adventists, since they claim so much “spiritual superiority” and “special guidance directly from God.”

But, nah, … not the case. Theory is one thing, what’s on paper is one thing, but the FACTS do not corroborate those “one things”…


(George Tichy) #11

I was always suspicious that you are a long term “troublemaker” Elaine… :wink:


(Sirje) #12

I was at AUC in the 60’s and didn’t see any discrimination. In fact, car loads went to the march in Alabama, headed by Roy Branson, as I recall. I may have been too naive to see a problem. Decades later, when AUC was mostly black, my daughter roomed happily with a black girl from NYC without a problem. I did find it interesting that the black students had their own “black alumni weekend”. That seemed unnecessary.


(Elaine Nelson) #13

I have heard that when African-American students requested admission to Union, Oakwood College was suggested as a “better fit.”


(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #14

I grew up on the west coast. Didn’t know about regional conferences or that our Adventist schools could be segregated. I had African-American college room- & suite-mates from whom I learned a lot about the challenges. The historical segregation of Adventist schools never came up. In the cafeteria many tables were voluntarily yet firmly segregated. I studied Spanish & hung out w/ Latin America friends. I learned about their dissatisfactions, especially Chicano ones, but didn’t then hear about the related history of Texas.

Maybe it’s that there were enough current heartaches that some of the historical details weren’t at the forefront. Some of it may have been provincialism from a shared youthful assumption that we lived at the zenith of the American world. E.g., SMC was virtually a foreign concept; a faint blip far, far away.

It wasn’t until a few years go that I became aware that U.S. Adventist hospitals had refused to treat African-Americans. Was that widely known, or was it a shameful secret that someone finally exposed?

More information becomes available & learning is a life-long quest. I may be finding out the the west coast colleges were also segregated officially at one time.


(Winona Winkler Wendth) #15

A very dear friend of mine, now deceased, traveled south to where his parents had moved from Tennessee to Alabama, I believe, and came back up to college in the Northeast, with the story that he and his sister were refused entry to the Anglo (they would have used the term “white”) Adventist church one Sabbath, and were sent away. This was in the mid-1960s. Certainly, Southwestern Junior College was segregated—my mother’s father, was a college administrator who counseled her and her siblings that “colored” drinking fountains were an abomination, still did not admit people of African descent. Of course, that was the 1930s, but the Adventist church de-segregated long after the entertainment industry did. California is an entirely different situation—and no one up/back here had any notion of segregation on the basis of Latin roots any more than we did anyone else whose language was not initially English. However, I don’t remember seeing many African Americans at either LSU or PUC any of the twenty years we lived and worked there.


(Winona Winkler Wendth) #16

I don’t think that official segregation was common. De facto segregation, yes.


(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #17

Lots of prejudice, though. I think more than the Latin roots, which may be minimal or absent, it’s due to a “perfect storm” of cultural, language, & what is in reality indigenous racial differences.

Back to the South. A pastor friend tells that early in his career, in the mid-late 1980s, he unexpectedly got a pastoral call to the Deep South. He was impressed w/ the church facilities & the community. It was looking good. Then, during his interview, church leaders told proudly how they’d scrambled when African-Americans showed up for their recent evangelistic series. To their dismay, the invitations had gone out to the “wrong” zip codes. The church quickly made other arrangements & announced that the meetings would continue at another location, which happened to be the nearby regional church. My friend declined the call.


(Winona Winkler Wendth) #18

“Black Alumni Weekend” came, yes, decades later, rising out of memories of the college that were not pleasant. Was that the best way to handle this? I don’t know. But although AUC was light years ahead of other SDA campuses on these issues, there were many painful narratives, nonetheless. The irony is that the constituency who populated AUC in the 1990s has been adamant about not recognizing the problems, at all, and were unwilling to engage in conversations about those years. This new African Island constituency claim the progress and benefits of those difficult years and but are quick to remind everyone that they were not part of any of it. Very few African Americans were on that campus when the school closed and cultural dissonance show on other fronts. In any case, it’s rarely the students who make life difficult on campus, but unspoken (or spoken) policies of administration and church leadership, who set a tone.


(Winona Winkler Wendth) #19

Having said that, I will add that although we had several students from Columbia and Venezuela, most of the Latin-American students at AUC were from either Cuba or Puerto Rico—and those groups were entirely segregated from each other, although students were not (that I remember). The Anglo community suffered from all kind of prejudice, though, in determining the “essential” difference between the two cultures. While I was growing up in NY, we had a German church, a Polish one, Hungarian, Czech—on and on. They are gone, now—both the people and the churches. I know that parents wanted their children to marry within their own culture, but that’s exactly what college is about: frustrating that. When the school closed, the very few Hispanic students remaining came from the Dominican Republic and smaller, newly developing countries. I don’t think I ever knew someone from Mexico (Latino, Chicano, or Mestizo) until I moved to California, never mind the multitude of differing Asian cultures. But on both coasts, the African American contingent has faced difficulties on our campuses. “Perfect Storm” is right. This is a very complicated issue—as the Denomination, as a whole is discovering, and which the Anglo notion of “Black,” makes quite a bit worse. I’m sure that this misunderstanding of culture is part of why Oakwood took the action it did: Their mission relates to this division, not the Inter-American Division or any of the African church entities.


(jeremy) #20

but remember, george, israel discriminated against women for centuries, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t led by god…