Walla Walla University Responds Directly To Racist Image Imbroglio

There is never a convenient time for university leaders to be thrown into a controversy involving a widely-condemned, racist image gone viral on social media. For Walla Walla University, which has been working hard to put out just such a fire, the timing was made worse by its overlap with the university’s spring break.

On March 26, the university issued its first public statement about the image, saying, “Just before our spring break, Walla Walla University administrators became aware of an anti-black, racist social media post involving six students on our College Place campus.”

With most students and many faculty members away from campus for the break, the university’s response to the growing crisis was fragmented. Official statements on the university website coupled with comments on social media by university officials and even the university’s official Facebook account sought to contain the fallout.

On March 27, Pedrito Maynard-Reid posted on his Facebook page, “As the Chief Diversity Officer of Walla Walla University, I, along with other administrators, faculty, staff, and students, have spent many hours on this matter.” Maynard-Reid shared a link to a new, updated statement from the university that strongly condemned racism.

On March 30, after several news outlets including Spectrum had published articles about the incident, the university published a third response—an in-depth Question and Answer document responding directly to charges that the university is a racist institution and that it is not doing enough to address its lack of diversity.

The questions ranged from the informative (What’s being done with the students involved in this incident? What is WWU doing to promote diversity, and educate the campus about racism and other issues related to diversity?) to the mildly patronizing (Have some people experienced racism on WWU’s campuses?) The answers provided a thorough response to criticisms of the university that followed the social media firestorm.

The third update provided a lengthy list of initiatives Walla Walla University has undertaken over the last decade to become a more diverse school. Most significantly, the university established the role of chief diversity officer on campus (called the assistant to the president for diversity).

Students returned to campus on Monday, April 2, to a planned “listening session” for the entire university. Leaders said both private and public listening sessions provided students, faculty, and staff opportunities to share concerns about the social media post and reflect on how we treat one another.

The university’s Q & A further detailed the actions being taken on campus. The administration also made available extended counseling and chaplain’s office hours for students, faculty, and staff interested in receiving emotional and spiritual care, the statement said.

University leaders said they would address the issue of racism during Walla Walla’s weekly all-campus gatherings, altering class schedules to accommodate a series of “Let’s Talk” diversity-focused educational presentations for the campus.

“Beyond this first week, we will work with diversity and thought leaders to prepare other steps and learning opportunities to enhance our ongoing efforts,” the Q & A said.

Community response and calls for accountability continued into Monday as well. Adventists for Social Justice, an Adventist nonprofit of “Christians committed to being our brother’s keeper,” published a statement reiterating the need for consequences.

In the last few weeks, we have observed the circulation of blatant racist actions by students at Walla Walla University on social media. Adventists for Social Justice stands with others in calling for appropriate actions and consequences for all involved. We applaud the administration for their swift response and diligence in exploring the next course of action and we await the results of this investigation and the University’s commitment to social and racial justice.”

The statement went on to lament “repeated occurrences of racism within our denomination.”

Those hoping to see disciplinary measures meted out against the students who caused the uproar will have to be satisfied in the knowledge that the university will follow its own disciplinary procedures, the Q & A indicated. “WWU will be able to confirm that our disciplinary process was followed, but the university, by law, can’t release information about disciplinary actions that can be identified with a particular student,” the statement said, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

On Tuesday, Walla Walla University President John McVay spoke to the whole school during the first of the planned university community conversations. In his nearly-half hour presentation, McVay explained to the student body what blackface is, why it elicits such strong negative reactions, and why the social media image of students seemingly in blackface with the Walla Walla University logo on it was so highly problematic.

McVay told the story of a young, black immigrant who along with her siblings experienced racist antagonism at a Seventh-day Adventist school decades ago. Her parents pulled all their children out of the Adventist school.

As an adult with her own child about to start school, she encountered the image of Walla Walla students with black facial peel masks and the word “Wakanda” on it. She called the university with the question, “Is a Seventh-day Adventist school a safe place to send my child?” The president became visibly emotional as he reached the story’s climactic question.

McVay translated the question this way: “Could I ever send my child to Walla Walla University?”

Students listening to Walla Walla University President John McVay during a campus-wide assembly, April 3, 2018.

“Why should we learn about [blackface] and learn to avoid it like the plague?” McVay asked rhetorically. He provided an abridged history of blackface and its use by whites “to depict African-Americans through their own perceptions rather than allowing African Americans a sense of autonomy and self determination,” not to mention the cruelly demeaning stereotypes blackface generally included.

McVay used the biblical story of the Apostle Paul as an example of a figure who worked with theological motivations to eradicate cultural and racial barriers. He used the text of Ephesians to suggest four points: 1. All people are by nature racists and egomaniacs. 2. The races are already reconciled. 3. God has a strategic plan for the cosmos to unite all things in Jesus. 4. We [believers] have an important part to play in God’s plan.

Noting the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s emergence “within the crucible of the American Civil War,” McVay asserted that the denomination has “moral and theological commitments that reflect its origins.” Many denominational founders were ardent abolitionists, he said.

Bringing the Adventist story home to the current situation, McVay asked whether the prophetic spirit of the early Adventist pioneers could be “as strong today on the campus of Walla Walla University as it was back then.”

Using the analogy of a lingering knee issue for which McVay had been attending physical therapy, he made his closing point: “Healing takes extended time and dedicated effort.”

Changing Walla Walla University’s “deep culture,” McVay told the assembly, will take sustained effort and conversation.

On Thursday, McVay said, students would have the chance to participate in one of five seminars (workshops). He called on all students to listen and to be willing to understand. He also invited students and faculty to attend weekend services at the university church, which he said would extend the conversation.


Jared Wright is a News Correspondent for Spectrummagazine.org.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8673

Looks like a great teaching moment for these young adults, that my alma mater is taking full advantage of. I say we all stand back and allow WallaWalla to do its job of teaching.


Speaking as a parent to a child in this age group, there is an element of lack of understanding here. Many of the people in this age group have never been exposed to black face as historical “entertainment.” (And before anyone decides that I am defending their choices, I am not.) I asked my son what black face was. He has no idea.

I’m guessing that the majority of these students attended Adventist schools through high school. Some school administrators need to take note and plan curriculum additions. It’s a great opportunity for them to be taught in no uncertain terms.


Let me offer a few modest suggestions, based on long experience with these matters in my educational history.

  1. It is important for white students to be immersed in truly black experiences such as worship, hearing their stories, empathizing with how they feel as blacks (or people of color, a larger category) and realizing that a lifetime of “blackness” creates certain fears and angers about what has impacted them. In other words, be “black” or a person of color for a while. It must be intentional, carefully planned and focus on non-defensive white listening.

  2. Read several books by black authors from the 60’s to 80’s like Eldridge Cleaver (Soul on Ice – ignore profanity and feel the anger), Langston Hughes and others (see this URL for excellent list – http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/explore/10-black-authors-to-read/#.WsY98dPwbOQ.

One volume you will find disturbing in a good way is Black Like Me by John Griffin. A white journalist who wanted to “experience” what it was like to be black in America, underwent treatments to darken his skin so he could pass for a black man in the South. It was also made into a movie which is chilling to watch (in a good way if you want to be sensitized).

It’s a personal journey into a more capacious, trusting and caring humanity.

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No, it should not be because that is where the heart of the problem lies. The Adventist pioneers’ misguided spirit remains strong or even stronger than it ever was. The “spirit” meaning the sense of entitlement claimed by our pioneers because “we are the remnant church, the chosen people of God” is brought to pathological heights as evidenced by our current church leadership endorsement of Male Headship and WO under the guise of religious bearings, and now modeled by our very own students perfectly to the T. Until this nonsense of entitlement is diluted and eventually eliminated from our church DNA, it can foment in different faces including racial prejudices.

Let this be a lesson to our church leaders for being psychologically blind. Is there anyone the likes of George @GeorgeTichy who can confer with our blind church leaders? How can a leopard change its spots?


Elmer Cupino… If, to you, we are not the Remnant Church, then who or whom do you say that we are? You do not believe we are the chosen people of God; then who do you believe we are? What are the “pathological heights” you speak of? Please explain the nexus between our pioneers believing that “we are the remnant church”, Male Headship & Women’s Ordination and the behavior of the Walla Walla Students in question. Also, how do you and others continue to charge “church leadership” with endorsement of Male Headship and WO when the delegates of 3 GC sessions voted against WO; without the GC President even weighing in. The former GC President (Jan Paulson) was the only leader, current or otherwise, who weighed in. Also, be specific about what you mean by “Entitlement”. I would appreciate if you would take the time to answer my questions. I will be happy to answer any questions you might have in return.

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Entitlement is defined as “someone who thinks something is owed to them by life in general; or because they are who they are.” The origins of normal entitlement can be traced back to infancy when the caretaker responds in a warm and kind way to the child’s need. In response, the child is inclined to seek or refuse treatment from the adult. As the child grows and mature, he learns about his rights and limitations to demand what he feels is proper and to negotiate additional rights. Unchecked, it becomes one of narcissistic traits, the others being lack of empathy, excessive arrogance and exploitative behaviors. Entitlement’s expression goes through different filters that either inhibits or promotes it growth. It its pathological nature, entitlement rob others of their value. Religion is known to foster its pathological growth by claiming that we are preferred over others by God. Another contributor to its pathological growth is as a compensatory reaction to disappointment.

The SDA church was built after a great disappointment. In a compensatory reaction, we claimed to be God’s chosen people and that claim has become an integral part of our church’s DNA. However, our church leaders have usurped it to the detriment of others such as claiming that males have headship over females, that females are not fit to be ordained, only males. The same excuse our early pioneers used to overcome our church’s great disappointment, our leaders have hijacked and misused it to destroy our church. Now our young who we have taught successfully during their sabbath school lessons have inculcated and introjected this sense of entitlement that God has chosen us over others and are using it in the wrong manner.

What else is there to say but to rid ourself of this rotten delusion of entitlement. In the sight of God, we are all sinners. Anyone, regardless of church membership, who accepts the gospel of Jesus is part of God’s chosen people.

Common knowledge is our highly esteemed and fearless GC president TW did all the legwork before the voting, it was anti climatic for him to “weigh in.” It was a “slam dunk” for lack of better adjective.


"The statement went on to lament “repeated occurrences of racism within our denomination.”

I would love to hear how this is going to be solved for a church that still maintains separate “racial” conferences and discriminates against women. The church will have to solve it’s own problems before it has anything to offer the “world”.


Brother Cupino… I am fully aware of what “entitlement means”… What I asked you to explain is what you mean by “entitlement” in the context you have used it. Seeing your response, I suppose you are asserting that because we understand ourselves to be God’s chosen people, this leads us (specifically leadership) to embrace an “entitled mindset” that is employed when determining what gender is supposed to lead out in the pastorate of the SDA Church or is to be ordained. Assuming that is what you are saying, as is the case with so many who support WO, you overlook the fact that this has been the practice that God Himself instituted throughout Biblical history. I will now supplant/replace your use of the term “entitlement” with “God’s order.” This was God’s instituted order for the 4,000 + years of Bible History. Something God never changed or “corrected” if that is not what He wanted. It would seem to me that it is not a stretch for one in 2018 to believe that males are to serve as Spiritual leaders in the home and in the church when the Bible is replete with example, after example, after example of males leading. If the church continues in this same pattern… beginning 1863 to present day… it has inspired writings, which display God’s order to draw from. Today, we only have “the culture around us” to tell us we should make a change; a culture that does not believe in the word of God. As I see it, you are not upset because we have been faithful to scripture; but rather because we have not falling in line with “the times” and “the common thinking of our day”.

When you say, It is common knowledge that our highly esteemed and fearless GC President TW did all the legwork before voting… How do you know that? What did he did do? Contact all 2,600 plus delegates?.. Call all the Union and/or Conference Presidents and have them caucus with their delegates to vote in favor against WO?.. You are making a charge that suggests that Elder Wilson is operating underhanded. Rather than to just say that he “did all the legwork before the voting”, be more specific. That’s a whole lot of people to influence. If it is truly “common knowledge” you should have no problem speaking openly about what transpired.

I want to reissue my question to you… Who do you think we (SDA’s) are? As compared to other religions? If we’re not “God’s Chosen People”, then rank us or rate us amongst others.

Finally you said,

Countless Christian denominations say that we are followers of “the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. Yet, they teach that the Law (10 Commandments) were nailed to the cross. Do you think that one who does not follow the law vs. one who follows the law are one in the same?

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How certain are you that only SDAs will be saved? The answer should give you a clue as to what importance being a “chosen people” is.

What is it about men that women do not have that is germane to the gospel of Jesus? The type of genitals? The Bible authors were living in a culture that subjugated women. Why we should ignore that fact is way beyond me.

You might want to review past articles in Spectrum regarding contributors from South Africa offering their opinions where they described TW meeting with Division leaders who asked him to make sure the issue is brought up for vote as they can come through with enough votes to block the issue. Another evidence is when a division president squashed his committee’s recommendation and offered his personal choice instead.


Elmer… nowhere in my writing did I write or even intimate that only SDA’s will be saved. The bible clearly teaches that people are only responsible for what they know (Acts 17:30). That does not answer my question. Who do you say that we are? Just another Denomination? Do you think that we have no special message to give to the world. Do you think that SDA’s are not God’s chosen people? If so, how do you square that with Ancient Israel. Were they not God’s chosen people? Indicating that God can have “a chosen people” on the earth. You did not answer my questions. State it clearly. If you believe that we have far less “standing and status” than we believe ourselves to have, then make it clear what standing/status you feel we do have; as it relates to other religions. I only ask for just one “declarative statement” from you!

Elmer… you are asking the wrong person that question… ask God! Do you really think that God never established the order He desires for His church because of the culture the Bible writers lived in? This would mean that the Bible was inspired by a combination of God’s will imparted and deference given to what heathens expect. Constantly, throughout the old and new testament, God spoke through his writers to shun the world and not to allow its ways to come into their camp (OT) or into their thinking (NT). He warned them against the ways of the world. Then, according to your thinking, he just decided to leave His Bible authors to “their own thoughts” when writing about church structure and order. Remember, to embrace this thinking, you would have to ignore that this same God gave specific instructions as to how His sanctuary is to be built and how, and by whom it is to be operated throughout the year. This is the same God who obliterated their enemies at His command. Why would He “cave in” on priesthood order, showing more deference to culture than His will, when He showed complete dominance over Israel’s enemies?

Finally, Elmer… come on… I asked you to show me how Elder Wilson had “done his legwork” to the point that the vote was already a done deal. You cited something that “might” have happened in one Division (the one and only Division in Africa that may be majority pro-Women’s ordination) and the other is a Division President who didn’t represent his Divisional TOSC committees report; but rather his own personal choice. I was there Bro. Cupino… I was in San Antonio and I do know that only the GC TOSC Report was reviewed at the outset of the WO Discussion/Debate. No Divisional TOSC Reports were discussed. I might have missed this, but I do not recall what instructions were given to the Divisional Presidents concerning how and to whom their Divisional TOSC Reports were to be given upon completion of their committees work. Also, while the motion on the floor did include “TOSC Reports” as a factor to consider in deciding how to vote… it also included the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. I would hope that the greatest; if not exclusive informational guiders for delegates making decisions would be the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.

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Elmer, if there is one thing that our beloved and well intended leaders will NOT do, ever, is to include MH professionals in their own examinations of MH issues. You know,… pastors are sure well equipped to handle all and any issues. And I mean ALL.
I am wondering if we are going to ever be handed the keys to the front door and to our offices at the GC building where the Nutcracker Clinic is supposed to function…


If you have been an Adventist for a long time, by now you must know how the SDA system works. If you are a new convert, just keep following the politics and you soon will be aware of how the system works.

Asking Elmer @elmer_cupino,“show me how,” may appear a legit request, but you may not get an answer. For the simple fact that some political manipulations do not leave a track. The only way to learn about all those things is to have reliable sources that will tell you how things work and what actually happens behind the scenes.

For example, if for two years before 2010 someone travels around the world literally campaigning for the GC Prez position, and nobody else is doing it, the odds are that that individual will most probably become the GC Prez in 2010. Proof? Don’t ask for it - the tracks were properly covered, though there are always some people who will not sell their souls and they will tell about it.

Now, your comments on the $1MI TOSC fiasco are very strange, not so say ludicrous. I wonder if “being there” precluded you from seeing some things that we who were not there could easily see from the outside. For example, Did Pastor Ratsara (the fake PhD) present a true report from the BRI from his Division, or did he not and instead he presented his personal views on the issue in question? I hope you saw what we could clearly see from the outside, what I called at that time “The Ratsara Maneuver.”

It is sad that sometimes the people inside believe that the people outside cannot actually see what happens inside.


Why are some people so surprised with what happened at WWU?
Things like that may easily happen when the youth are raised in a church environment that strongly supports/imposes discrimination of women, for example.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those throwing rocks now are actually discriminators of women. Hypocrisy is not as rare as one would think…

The best thing the Church could do now would be to proclaim total opposition to discrimination in any form. But it’s not going to happen, because discrimination of women is not negotiable to those men who have the psychological NEED to discriminate against women.

I wonder if there are some Christian discriminators of women at WWU who are being vocal against racism… That would be ludicrous…


much ado about nothing; it seems that race-baiters and SJWs are just flapping their ridiculous “safe space” needs over a pic of dumb kids with a facial mask on which triggered their hurt feelings. No, the university doesn’t have a race issue (possibly the 5 students do though, too early to tell), and NO we do not need to blame Admin for what these kids did. That’s censorship and fascist thought-policing. Yawnnnnnnn…


discrimination against women??? This article isn’t even talking about that, so why are you bringing up a non-sequiturs?

“I wonder if there are some Christian discriminators of women at WWU who are being vocal against racism… That would be ludicrous…”

Some might say…even hypocritical, eh?

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Greg…I brought it up first in the context of the article and other comments. You may go back and read it now.

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“just flapping their ridiculous “safe space” needs over a pic of dumb kids with a facial mask on which triggered their hurt feelings”

I am glad that you are open to the idea that the 5 students MAY have a race issue…


the article is jam-packed with non-sequiturs and redirects. Interview the kids and get the facts. THEN we can chat about"what" actually happened instead of these pointless and baseless dust ups that attempt to just throw stones and petards at our institutions for the joy of malcontents.

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