(Twelfth in a series; 9,900 views as of 4/14/24)

The central claim of President Phil Ryken and Wheaton College Trustees is that former Wheaton President J. Oliver Buswell was racist. After denouncing him, they promised to rid their campus of his name. To that end, they bought and installed all new campus signage showing Buswell Library is now “Library”:

New campus signage: Buswell Library now Library

The deed was accomplished by Wheaton’s President and Trustees. They assigned the work to a group (made up mostly of employees)1 who assembled the charges. The working group was announced in an email to the community from President Ryken dated October 15, 2021. Their first meeting was two weeks later, on October  28, 2021. Then, this past September 14, 2023, committee members, President Ryken, and the Trustees presented their denunciation of President Buswell publicly, naming their work, Historical Review Task Force Report.

What started it all was a group of students who called themselves “the collective of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] students and alumni of Wheaton College” demanding the “immediate removal of President James Oliver Buswell’s name from the college’s library.”

As it turned out, full submission to their demand of “immediate removal” took Wheaton’s trustees and administration two years and eleven months.

Here is the context explaining why President Ryken and his Trustees became committed to this public humiliation and penance rite.

Students of color present their demand

The minutes of the March 23, 2021, Wheaton College Faculty Business Meeting contain the following details of what is listed on the meeting’s agenda as the “Student Government Report.” The report was given by student government leader, Estefanía Hernández, and the minutes record the following under the heading, “Responding to Student Petition to Change the Buswell Library Name”:

Following the Student Petition to change the name of Buswell Library, Student Government is planning to deliberate [sic] a proposal concerning the naming and dedication of Buswell library sometime in the next few weeks. The William Osborne Society, Wheaton’s Black Student Union, found information that led them to believe that former President Oliver Buswell was a segregationist.

…Student Government recognizes the complexity in requesting a building’s name to be changed. Moreover, we also recognize the legacy of segregation and exclusion that former President Buswell left on Wheaton College.

…I invite faculty members to prayerfully consider the Student Petition to change the name of Buswell Library and pray for our racialized minority students that continue to experience lack of belonging and lack of support from the college.

The “Student Petition” mentioned in the first line of Estefanía Hernández’s report began:

Dear Wheaton College administration:

We, a collective of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] students and alumni of Wheaton College, write you this letter to request the immediate removal of President James Oliver Buswell’s name from the college’s library.

The petition was written and began circulating during the first months of 2021 so that, by the time Hernández made her statement to the March 23, 2021, Wheaton College Faculty Business Meeting, the petition presented a growing threat to Wheaton’s President, Trustees, and faculty.

The accusation and threat

What was its “threat?”

Note in her statement to the Faculty meeting how Hernández brings it to a conclusion by requesting that her listeners, Wheaton’s faculty members, “pray for our racialized minority students that continue to experience lack of belonging and lack of support from the college.”

The word “racialize” only recently came into mainstream use. To “racialize” is to divide or marginalize according to race.

Speaking to the faculty, Hernández declared Wheaton College to be a racist, segregated community. She condemned Wheaton’s majority Whites for separating, marginalizing, and dividing minority students of color. She accused Wheaton’s Whites of splitting off Wheaton’s people of color, thereby causing them a “lack of belonging and lack of support from the college.” (Of course, it was just a prayer request.)

This is the stick. What is Hernández’s carrot?

The “racializing” Whites running the college can atone for their present racist segregation by condemning their racist segregationist President of a century ago, immediately removing his name from the Library. By following her demand for the public denunciation of President Buswell with her accusation that Wheaton remains a racist segregated community, Hernández makes it clear to Wheaton’s faculty, administration, and trustees that she and her fellow people of color are willing to play hard ball.

So the context for the “historical review” and subsequent denunciation of Buswell and name change of Wheaton’s “Buswell Library” is Wheaton’s president and trustees understanding that student Hernández’s private accusation of Wheaton racism would go public and get louder if Wheaton’s administration didn’t do what they were told.

Denounce your father or we’ll denounce you

Declaring Wheaton College’s Whites to be a racializing community was the master stroke. Wheaton’s BIPOC collective (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) would get their way.

And they did.

What do we learn?

First, let’s all acknowledge that sinful men, both those of us who belong to Christ and those who do not, are tempted by, and give ourselves over to, racism. What is meant by this word “racism”?

Pride, selfishness, opposition, marginalization, exclusion, and worse based upon race—which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as:

A group of people who share the same language, history, characteristics, etc.

Do Blacks look down on and marginalize Whites?

Of course, although fearful Whites will deny it.

Do Whites look down on and marginalize Blacks?

Of course.

And the same fearful Whites who deny Blacks are racist will fall all over themselves confessing their racism every time Blacks demand it of them.

It would be better if the angry Blacks allowed us to confess it about our fathers, though. Not us.

We’ll pay for the document to be written and the signage changed. Just give us some time to finesse it.

Always bear in mind unborn babies are an oppressed race, but they can’t write petitions and make angry threats to President Ryken and his trustees. They’re murdered before they can speak.

Wheaton racism has been more or less constant

Whether we consider Wheaton presidents Charles Blanchard, J. Oliver Buswell, V. Raymond Edman, Dick Chase, or Phil Ryken, all have presided over a campus where the sin of racism was present. This is the testimony of Estefanía Hernández in 2021 about President Phil Ryken, and she’s quite right (in her accusation, that is).

The racism of Wheaton’s women who, in 1909, ostracized Nellie Bryant and Wheaton’s men who, in 1919, expelled Charles Satchell Morris from the student dining hall under the presidency of Jonathan Blanchard’s son, Charles2; the racism of Wheaton’s trustee(s) in 1939, opposing the acceptance of Blacks when Rachel Boone applied under the presidency of J. Oliver Buswell; the racism from 1940-1950 when only seven Black students were enrolled under the presidency of V. Raymond Edman3; the racism in 1988 under Dick Chase when only two Black students matriculated in the freshman class (0.4 percent of Wheaton’s freshman class when Blacks were 12% of U.S. and 14.7% of Illinois population); and the racism of Wheaton’s administration, faculty, and student body declared by Estefanía Hernández in 2021, under the presidency of Phil Ryken; take your pick.

Why did Phil Ryken and his trustees single out Oliver Buswell for their appeasement ritual of denunciation?

Because, speaking as the representative of “Black, Indigenous, and People of Color” students and alumni of Wheaton College, Estefanía Hernández demanded that Wheaton single out J. Oliver Buswell for their appeasement ritual of denunciation. She and her people of color could as easily have chosen Charles Blanchard, V. Raymond Edman, Dick Chase, and Phil Ryken to be the focus of their demands.

To say we all are racists is not to deny racism is a sin, but to condemn the present hypocrisy so desperate to appease race-mongers by denouncing the dead in the hope that we, the living, may slip through with our privilege intact.

By all testimonies, Wheaton College is a very White, very wealthy, and very proud community. Despite our defense of James Oliver Buswell against the attack of Wheaton’s best and brightest, let us all acknowledge how likely it is God Himself is the One disciplining Wheaton by allowing them to undertake this denunciation-of-fathers ritual.

May the time quickly come when Wheaton’s shaming—not of their fathers, but of themselves—will produce a harvest of righteousness to the glory of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

(Twelfth in a series; 9,900 views as of 4/14/24)


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References
1Including staff support, Katrina Wheeler, Chelsey Geisz, and Emily Banas.
2Report, pp. 44.45.
3Report, p. 14.

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