Dear Members of the Seminary Community,
Many across the nation have taken to the streets to protest the systemic injustice experienced by African Americans. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor were the precipitating cause of these protests, but the protests are about the long history of violence against African Americans, especially by the police. At a protest in Princeton a week ago, my wife and I held up a poster that said, “Not one more.” But on Friday night Rayshard Brooks was shot to death by a white police officer in Atlanta. So, once again, one more life was lost. And unless we see a serious overhaul in the nation’s approach to policing, there will continue to be another one, and another one.
The prophets of the Old Testament repeatedly called their people to do justice. That’s different than talking about justice, having a critical social theory of justice, or even protesting for justice. At some point the question becomes what are you going to do about justice?
This is not to say that words are unimportant. Words are a powerful tool for good or evil. As a theological school part of our mission is to ensure that our actions are grounded in the holy words of scripture and a theological tradition that call for a more just way of life together under God. But as a small part of the Body of Christ we then must strive to do justice.
This summer we are putting together plans that we believe will lead to more doing of justice. Among them are the following:
- Members of our faculty have already published a commitment to ensure their teaching represents their devotion to racial justice.
- Dean White and I will soon be meeting with the Executive Board of the Association of Black Seminarians to move forward with specific actions they have recommended to further our commitment to social justice on campus, and our witness to the communities around the Seminary.
- This summer plans are in the works to engage in the development and implementation of continuous anti-racism training for faculty, students, administrators, and staff in the coming academic year. Professors and students are working with administrators to develop these plans, which will begin at orientation.
- We have formed a committee of professors, students, and administrators that will revise our Title VI policies and procedures that respond to complaints about racial discrimination. This committee will also revise our Title IX policies and procedures for sexual discrimination.
- Early in the fall, I will appoint a task force that will include ABS leaders to articulate a statement of racial justice and police reform. This statement will provide the basis for working with local police departments to call for reforms.
- Last semester we worked with community leaders in Trenton to provide lunches for children who did not receive these meals when the public schools closed. We will remain in conversations with these partners to ensure we can provide tangible acts of loving our neighbors.
- At the request of ABS, we are providing free trauma counseling to every Black student who requests it. We will be working with more Black counselors to assist in this commitment.
- The new Francis Grimke Scholarships, provided by the trustees as part of the response to our slavery audit, will support ten incoming students of color this year and ten additional students every year thereafter. These scholarships are a significant investment in increasing the number of African Americans in our student body and supporting these students’ flourishing as part of our covenant community.
As the summer unfolds you will hear more about these and other specific ways for how we will continue to do justice. Race is not a new conversation for us, but neither is it a conversation that can ever be completed. I am grateful to ABS, the faculty, students, trustees, and administrators and staff who have invested much time and energy in helping the Seminary take strides toward becoming a more just witness to the beloved community of Jesus Christ.
M. Craig Barnes
President, Princeton Theological Seminary