In October of 2020, author Jemar Tisby spoke at Grove City College chapel about his book The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. By most accounts, his visit to the Christian college went without incident and that was largely that until November of 2021, when a group of parents and former students launched a petition called “Save GCC From CRT.” That petition prompted the launch of a sub-committee which investigated the claims and released a report largely affirming the petition’s concerns. Now, Tisby has released an open letter addressing that report and its adoption by the Grove City Board of Trustees.
First, a little background: The petition claimed that “a destructive and profoundly unbiblical worldview seems to be asserting itself at GCC, threatening the academic and spiritual foundations that make the school distinctly Christian.” The worldview in question is Critical Race Theory, which the petition described as teaching that “Guilty White people (all Whites) can never overcome their intrinsic racism” and “only the ‘woke’— those awakened to the systemic racism of White society and how it impacts victims on a scale of intersectionality — can recognize the problem and permissibly speak about it.” As evidence of Grove City College’s endorsement of such teaching, the petition highlighted the use of a TED Talk by Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson and Tisby’s own “troubling” speech, which you can watch in full here.
In response, Grove City’s Board of Trustees appointed a Special Committee to investigate the petition’s claims in February. By April, the Committee released their report, which investigated “creeping ‘wokeness’ particularly through the introduction of critical race theory” and stated that such drift would “conflict with Grove City College’s well-earned reputation as a conservative, independent, and Christ-centered college standing athwart the increasingly progressive higher-education environment.” The report characterized inviting Tisby to speak at chapel as a “mistake.”
The report recommended “reconstituting” the college’s Office of Multicultural Education and noted that the school’s short-lived Advisory Council on Diversity was now defunct, “having served its limited purpose.”
The full report is available here.
In Tisby’s response, he denied being a Critical Race Theorist “out of respect for the scholars and experts who have devoted years of their professional study to learning about and developing this theory utilized most often in legal studies.” He also defended his chapel speech, noting that “in the report you reference not a single word or sentence from my 21-minute message. Your silence on the matter leaves the impression that the real issue for you is not how I spoke about racism but that I spoke about it at all.”
By adopting this report you imply that honest dialogue about race and earnest efforts to promote racial justice are somehow un-Christian …At the very moment when people should be fighting against racism, you are making it harder for them to acquire the knowledge to do so. With this report and its recommendations you send the message that only the most superficial and vague statements about race are acceptable, and you leave your students under-equipped to fight against the present and violent scourge of racism in the land.
Tisby’s letter said that “what you are doing now is exactly what you would have done” during the Civil Rights Movement, drawing historical examples of times when the American Church supported institutions like slavery and segregation. “You have the opportunity to choose a different path,” writes Tisby. “You have the chance to practice courageous Christianity.”
You can read Tisby’s full letter here.