Activist group makes claims of racism at GCU

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Racism at Grand Canyon University? That's what one activist group is claiming after a professor made a derogatory comment at a GCU-hosted forum nearly a year ago.

Video taken at the forum on social justice last September shows the professor saying some members of the "Black Lives Matter" organization should be "hung."

[READ MORE: GCU professor on leave after saying some participants in Black Lives Matter 'should be hung']

Now, BLM is calling for disciplinary action against the professor and for the university to hire an outside firm to investigate the culture at the campus.

"And you have people on the opposite extreme of that that frankly should be hung, And yes, I did say that on video," said Dr. Toby Jennings, a professor of theology at GCU.

He was responding to a student asking about the BLM organization at the 2016 forum.

University officials said this wasn't brought to their attention by BLM until last week, and they have since placed Jennings on leave while they investigate.

But who was the whistle-blower to BLM? That would be Dr. Shaun Bawulski. He was also on the forum panel with Jennings, but was recently fired from GCU back in June. 

Friday afternoon, he and BLM held a press conference to discuss the situation.

We asked why this was coming to light a year after the incident happened.

"That's an excellent question. I was appalled by the video, but I felt retaliation would come if I addressed it with the dean or the university," said Bawulski.

Bawulski insisted his red flag wasn’t meant to be revenge against the university.

"This is not payback. I am not in this for anything except to help black people and students of color at this university, and people of color in this town," said Bawulski.

Meanwhile, BLM accused GCU of other similar incidents involving race.

"This is not the first instance that GCU has either allowed anti-blackness to flourish or allowed a culture that allows these ideas to resonate to the campus, so an apology for one instance is welcome, but we need substantive change to show that you are actually committed to this and that you don’t just want us to be quiet," said Mike Ingram, chair of Black Lives Matter, Phoenix.

GCU President Brian Mueller says otherwise.

"It was terribly wrong, but it was an incident that was isolated. And it does not represent who our faculty is. It does not represent who our students are," said Mueller. "The comment was bad, and the person has been suspended, but one of the first things I did was our ask our student leaders to come and talk to me. Is there something that I don’t know about? In the classroom, outside of the classroom? And they assured me there was not."

Students we spoke with were disheartened about Jennings statement, but reiterated GCU is a campus of equality, love and kindness.

"I think it’s appalling that he (Jennings) made that statement. I don’t agree with that statement at all, but the fact that we’re even having this conversation is an example of how we go about handling things here on campus," said Christina White, vice president of the Black Student Union at GCU.

"I don’t feel that GCU’s community harbors one of racism and bigotry for sure," said Wayne Howell, president of the Black Student Union at GCU.

We reached out to Jennings for comment, but as of this update, have not heard back.

The University has posted public apologies from Jennings, as well as the Dean of Theology, for his handling of the incident.

Jennings said:

In light of the reality that I, Toby Jennings, am a sinner who has received the forgiving and rescuing grace of Jesus Christ, I confess that I both sin and have sinned. Particularly, I have inexcusably offended many fellow image bearers of God by my imprudent use of inappropriate, uncharitable, and incendiary language. Not only does my communicated sentiment not reflect my personal and more thoughtful disposition toward any and all priceless treasures who bear the image of my heavenly Father, but my impassioned choice of words certainly does not reflect the pathos, practice, and vision of Grand Canyon University.

Having been entrusted with representing such an institution that has a public record of contributing Godward change in individuals and in our community, I deeply and sincerely regret having communicated such ill-motivated rhetoric—particularly in light of our nation’s present rhetoric-saturated distress. While words, once spoken, can never be taken back, my hope is that my sincere apology for my own words can pave a more gracious path toward reconciliation—a reconciliation that is at the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ—humanity’s sole hope for rescue from all its evils.

Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of Theology, said:

I, Jason Hiles, wish to extend a formal apology for my handling of comments made during the context of a Ministry Forum event on GCU’s campus in the fall of 2016. During the course of responding to student questions, a professor under my supervision made insensitive and incendiary comments about certain individuals within the Black Lives Matter movement.

These comments were entirely inappropriate, inexcusable, and out of line with the University’s views on racial issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. While I addressed the comments directly with the professor after the event, in retrospect I believe that an immediate, public refutation of the comments would have provided greater clarity to the 85 faculty and students in attendance and the 199 or so who have viewed the video since.

It was not my intention to leave ambiguity about the University’s position on these complicated matters, nor did I intend to imply that the comments were acceptable. While this is by no means an excuse for my misjudgment in this case, I am confident that what I have learned from the incident will enable me to respond more adequately if faced with a similar situation at a future date.

Again, I apologize for this incident and I accept full responsibility for failing to adequately address comments which clearly have no place in civil public discourse.

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