The cleaning staff at Christian-themed George Fox University in Newberg, OR, happened upon a disturbing sight when they started their work day last Tuesday: a large photo of Sen. Barack Obama hanging in effigy from a tree outside a campus building.
Yes, this is 2008.
Students — including members of the school’s Republican group — and university officials say they are aghast at the act and will hold discussion forums to facilitate dialogue on the issues of bigotry and diversity at the college.
From The Oregonian:
A custodial crew at the 3,355-student Christian university found the Obama likeness hanging by fishing wire from a tree at 7 a.m. Tuesday and tore it down before students arrived for classes. A sign taped to the cutout said, “Act Six reject,” referring to a scholarship program for Portland students, many of whom are minorities.
President Robin Baker, standing with dozens of Act Six students and student leaders in front of a packed auditorium Wednesday morning, urged students to show the incident has no place in Christian ideals.
“We absolutely cannot hate those around us and say we love God,” he said. “It is not possible.
“Yesterday was not a good example of what it means to follow Jesus,” he said.
… Students said they were shocked and angry when they learned of the stunt in an e-mail Wednesday morning. They said the incident was isolated and did not reflect the beliefs of students on the predominantly white campus.
… Baker said the incident was a blow to efforts over the past several years to recruit more diverse students by developing relationships with minority groups in Portland. This fall, 25 percent of the 390 freshmen are students of color, up from 16 percent in 2005.
The Act Six program, which started last year, provides full scholarships each year to as many as 10 students chosen for their leadership potential from Portland high schools.
“The reason we hadn’t been successful at recruitment in the past is there wasn’t a relationship,” Baker said after his speech. “Those communities need to trust you, so this one incident could mess up our entire trust network.”
The Obama image at George Fox is the third publicized incident on Oregon college campuses in the past year involving racist images hanging from trees.
The fact is, some wild-eyed racist may not be behind this. I assume the hanging probably was an act of “performance racism” designed to take aim at numerous targets, but it is possible that some twisted attention-seeker did this just to cause a stir. Comments on this topic to The Oregonian feature normal sounding people defending George Fox and decrying bigotry, but others posit that some “liberal” could have done the deed to gain sympathy for his/her cause, and a few simply drip with disdain for the scholarship program and so-called minorities.
In any case, it is clear that the George Fox community overall is as horrified by what happened as we are here at AF&O. I get a sense that the university, a well-regarded educational institution, is committed to diversity and to respecting all its students. But even in the best of places, there are those few who hate. A subset of these unfortunate humans will find inspiration in the pathologies of the past. The number of those who actually would carry out such a heinous act is thankfully very small. This is comforting in a strange way.
Let’s congratulate George Fox University for its quick and adamant response and wish its students and faculty well in their efforts to spread the messages of tolerance and true Christian love for all.
As for Sen. Obama and his family, we send them prayers for strength and courage along with a warning: This probably won’t be the last incident of this nature they will have to endure. America, tragically, still has much more to do in its effort to extinguish old-school hate.