Charlottesville, et al. | Jeffrey Bullock, University of Dubuque

Charlottesville, et al.

Our campus Chaplain talked to me about a student from California who had inquired whether I was going to issue a statement about Charlottesville. 

By the time this piece is made public, every one of my readers will know about the events in Charlottesville.  They will have read or listened to our President’s initial remarks, and formed an opinion about whether his responses were genuine, forceful or equivocating. 

They’ll know more about the driver who plowed into the demonstrators, scattering bodies as if made of plastic, and those individuals who were killed, maimed and traumatized. 

They’ll be able to name many of the protestors and counter-protestors; groups like Neo-Nazis, Nationalists, White Supremacists, Militias, KKK,  Black-Lives Matter, Indivisible Charlottesville, and they will maybe even know about a young man named Tyler Lloyd who stood inside Emancipation Park offering water and holding a sign that read, “free hugs.”  But that’s not the essence behind the question our student is asking me.  At least I don’t believe it is.

Our student, along with his parents, understandably, is wondering whether it is safe for him here at the University of Dubuque.  He may also be wondering if it’s safe for him to be in Iowa.  In Dubuque?  It’s the type of question every parent, guardian, aunt or uncle is asking now as they send their children away from home and to a college or university.  And their question is reasonable—and tragic—just the same.

The violence of Charlottesville happened on or near the University of Virginia campus.  But in addition to Charlottesville, families have begun to pay attention to what is (or is not) happening on other college campuses. 

Not only do they see reports and read stories about speakers who are disinvited from campuses for holding a particular political viewpoint, but they have also witnessed protests that turned violent in such places as Berkeley and the University of Washington. 

If they are really in tune to the on-going discussion, they may even be in a state of complete disbelief over a comment in which a professor intoned that the UVA “…seems institutionally incapable of moral clarity.”  “What can a President of a contemporary University say?” he writes.  “The University of Virginia is many things… [but as a multiversity, it has] little common purpose but the perpetuation of itself and its procedures.”  And citing sociologist Max Weber from nearly a century ago, “…if [we look] to the University for guidance on how to live, [we will] be disappointed.”

I (and we) respectfully disagree.

The University of Dubuque is a faith-based organization of teaching and learning.  Our Mission, which rests on a firm Judeo-Christian foundation, calls us to be hospitable to other faith traditions; striving to facilitate a diverse and equitable community where Christian love is practiced, even while we live and learn together, fully human and dysfunctional as we can sometimes be, as undergraduate, graduate, and theological seminary students; professors, professional staff, and trustees. 

We have both the moral and Missional authority to state, unequivocally, that certain actions are not acceptable within this community.  We are not only open to, but enthusiastically encourage the rigorous exchange of well-thought out ideas and opinions. 

However, we will not accept violence as either the natural outcome of differing opinions or as a barrier to welcoming controversial opinions to our campus—that’s out of bounds. 

Debate and the free exchange of ideas matter.  So does listening, respect, restraint and tolerance.  The moral authority upon which we make that claim is that we are all human, and, in the words of our Dean, we are also all “…image bearers of God.”  And image bearers of God don’t throw stones—or swing clubs, spray chemicals, light flares, or parade around in white-hooded robes.

About ten years ago, our archivist brought a letter to me written by one of my predecessors from the 1920s.  In that letter, the former president was informing the members of the KKK that they would not be allowed to host a rally on the University’s Chalmers Field. 

Even though there were very few African-American students during that period of our school’s history, individuals from a Protestant background sometimes forget that the Klan was equally vehement in its hatred of Roman Catholicism.  Dubuque was, and is, a predominately Roman Catholic community.  Because of the foundation upon which our Mission rested, the President had the moral authority to say “no.”

What cannot be missed about this entire tragic weekend, is that the bulk of the protests and counter-protests took place in or near a little piece of public property now known as Emancipation Park.  Until June of this year, Emancipation Park had been known as Lee Park, home to a statue of Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate Army. 

The statue and the park were built in 1917, about fifty years after the end of the War, as a tribute to Lee during a time of regional romantic reflection and nostalgia, especially for Civil War generals.  It was also the period in which segregation and the repression of African-Americans took root in southern states, and where the reassertion of Confederate mores accelerated. 

The statue is clearly a tribute and a symbol, as nearly all statues are.  But what is the statue a tribute to?  And for what is it a symbol?  To one group, it’s a tribute to a beloved leader.  To another, it’s a symbol of unimaginable repression. 

Because I happen to be Caucasian and do not experience the on-going legacy of the sin of slavery, I will never be able to fully grasp the pain behind that symbol.  However, I’m pretty sure I would see the statue of Lee differently were my skin to have more pigmentation.

Perhaps more than anything else, the purpose of receiving an education at a University with a Mission like ours is to help emancipate us from our ignorance.  And the one true thing about ignorance is that it exists in ample abundance in every religious tradition, ethnicity, demographic profile, political party, college campus, city, state, country, and family. 

To be human is to be ignorant, but is also to be an image bearer of God.

As I have said before, the University of Dubuque should be known as a place that facilitates the free exchange of well-thought-out ideas.  Ideas are to be judged by their merits.  Both good ideas and bad ideas sharpen even better ideas.  Ideas matter because thinking matters.  Thinking matters because we live in a complicated era that demands our best ideas to begin solving our most complex problems, and problems don’t get serious attention in echo chambers which, sadly, is where many of our country’s institutions exist today.  That needs to change.

Places like UD must exist if our Republic—and our world—is, ultimately, to be emancipated from all the forms of bigotry and hatred that keep us from being fully human in the way God intended us to be.  Our Republic also expects a certain return from those among its populace that have been privileged to be the beneficiaries of this kind of rigorous education:  it’s called engagement. 

Sometimes that engagement takes the form of a University president telling the Klan that they are not welcome here, or that it’s time to earnestly reexamine what we are communicating through the public symbols of our Republic.

So let me conclude where I began by responding to our student’s question. 

Yes: I am writing a statement about Charlottesville but, as you can see, it’s more than that.  It’s an analysis of the enormously complex and painful work that our country is in need of you to consider, understand and, eventually, reconcile. 

You will be safe here.  But while you are here, I need you to strengthen your mind and passion by engaging and taking full advantage of the resources that this Mission has to offer you.  If you do that, and I know you will, you will eventually be known as both a sense-maker and a peace-maker—he and she whom, I hope, will inherit the earth.

Oh, and regarding the statue?  Here’s my suggestion; actually, it’s the suggestion of one of our sons.  Let’s carefully move the statue to the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. and respectfully locate it near the F.W. Woolworth soda fountain counter which is on display in the middle of a large lobby that is regularly swarming with high school students likely visiting the nation’s capital for the first time. 

There they learn of five young Americans who, in 1960, sat down in an act of civil disobedience to order a soft drink in Little Rock, Arkansas. Charles Parker, Frank James, Vernon Mott, Eldridge Davis and Chester Briggs helped to change how America saw herself.  A statue of Robert E. Lee, respectfully displayed and located in the same vicinity, will also continue to teach future generations about who we are and whom we are laboring to become.  In that almost sacred space a portion of our country’s complex history can be witnessed and maybe eventually understood—absent the stones, clubs, and flares. 

As my son reminded me, “…we learn from both the good and the bad, Dad.”

22 Comments

  1. I admit I am disappointed in your remarks and while thoughtfully submitted still attempted to walk a narrow path. There are times in life when we stand for or we stand against something and the narrow path must not be traveled. There is no commonality between hatred and the message from Christ who forcefully talked about love but just as forcefully called out idolatry and anger and sin. We are measured when the moment arrives on whether we step off the narrow path of thoughtfulness and confront brokenness and sin. It will be how we are remembered.

    • Jan,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the blog and my readers. I thought I was pretty clear about where I came down on the issue, and tried to provide a path forward for constructive engagement.
      Again…thanks.
      Jeffrey

  2. I continue to be proud of my UD President and the moral leadership he provides to my Alma Mater.
    Thank you President Jeff for not remaining silent. Thank you for your thoughtful and profound words. They offer assurance that rational and courageous witness
    are still alive on our campus.

    • Don,
      Thank you for your remarks and for reading the blog. I’m very proud of this campus and the people here, and also understand that we’re all vulnerable to our own biases and prejudices. Thanks for your comments.
      Jeffrey

  3. Jeff,
    Thank you for your clear, reasoned, and respectful response. We must never allow hatred and bigotry to go unchallenged. I am proud to be an alumnus of UDTS (’71). Blessings on you and the University.

  4. In light of this issue I begin to wonder about images (graven or otherwise). Do we honor in any way those who are wrong … especially on the issue of slavery (although I am aware that is only one of many issues of the civil war). For me …. NO! But then do we honor in any way those on the Northern side who still had slaves? Really tough questions. I think however we are all missing the point … at what point does government have the right to dictate morals or laws to others. The crucial issue for us today is this question and it is the one the motivates the hate which is rising across the world. For me the protection of all people is primary …. providing they see that protect of human rights beyond just themselves. We have moved into a world of face book and cell phone (vs face to face conversations) and it seems to be a unwritten law that you can say and do as you damn well please (which I radically disagree with). We may not see God in the same way as others … but however we define God the basic principle for me is that we are all God’s children. I also radically disagree with the death penalty … be neither or church or any government I know of is willing to take the time to either understand these terrible people or to help them to become a part of the community of God’s children.

    • David,
      Thank you for reading the blog, and for taking the time to comment. You raise a number of important questions. One of many important points re: Charlottesville for me was the fact that the Lee statue is located on public property. Whether we approve, our government is making a statement through these statues which are, indeed, symbols. The problem is these symbols re-present different things to different people, often depending on one’s family of origin. So the question I was pressing is this: What are we (our government) really communicating through these symbols? Why? And to whom?
      And there is more.
      Thank you.

      Jeffrey

  5. Jeff, I thought your comments were to the point and left me as a reader with plenty to think about. I also do not have a black heritage and so these statues (symbols) are little more than reminders of another time in our history and our culture. They are certainly not worshipped by me or romanticized as they might be by others of another time and culture. Yet, they do remind us of the brokenness that existed within people of that time that did not see or experience the world in the way the vast majority of us do today. I don’t find them offensive, nor do I find them helpful in the greater struggle that is ongoing over who we are as a people and more importantly as representatives of Christ in the world. I completely agree with you when you say that UD needs to be a place where ideas are openly and honestly discussed without fear of violence or reprisal. We all need to think critically about issues that reveal who we are as God’s people, and not done in a way meant to satisfy the loudest voice. Lead on Jeff.

    • Jim,
      Thank you for taking the time to read the blog and offer your comment, Jim. I always appreciate your input!
      Jeffrey

  6. Thanks, as always, Dr. Bullock. — oh, I mistakenly replied to the direct email, but I’ll repeat here, for this blog discussion.

    Your words never fail to go beyond my petty responses; thanks for dragging the slower of us along. And, ahh, children! As the psalmist writes, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength …” (Ps 8:2)

    Yours in Christ

    • Carol,
      You’re welcome to reply to direct mail anytime! Thank you for reading the blog, and for offering your thoughts on this very sensitive and heartbreaking topic.
      Jeffrey

  7. Jeffrey, Jeffrey, Jeffrey, the fact that Robert E. Lee’s statue was on public property is absolutely irrelevant. Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and their minions spearheaded a revolt against the government of the United States and in doing so exerted their right to enslave fellow human beings as property. Most of these statues were erected during the Jim Crow era in the 1950s-1960s. No such statue should stand, anywhere, any more than a statue of Herman Goring will ever stand in Germany, even though he predicted there would be many statues celebrating his greatness. Hate is hate and there is no narrow ground, no talking politely to the other side, hoping to change a few minds. Would that it worked that way.

    And would the University of Dubuque allow a Neo-Nazi to speak on campus? Judging a speaker by whether his/her speech is well-reasoned is craziness. Speakers who do not tolerate fellow human travelers have no place on college campuses. Even the First Amendment has its limits.

    OK, I’ll shut up now. Glad you gave some thought to this stuff, Jeffrey. You really need to shout from the highest rooftops in plain English, shout without fear of retribution, shout without fear of being misunderstood, and shout because your heart truly believes it.

    • Kurt
      No need to “shut up now.” I sincerely appreciate your reading the blog and offering your thoughts and critique. In one original draft, I included a comparison of the Lee statue to Germany/Hitler-Goebbels. I removed it because I felt that the comparison would have been a flash-point and take away from my main argument. And, no; Neo-Nazi’s or Klan members should not be welcome on campus, in my opinion. As I indicated in the piece, a former president made that decision nearly 100 years ago, and I’d make that same decision today. And to your point about when this particular statue was erected. Most of these statues were erected between 1915-1925 the beginning (this one 1917), as I note, of a new and extreme era of aggression and repression of African-American citizens. It was part of what I believe to have been a nationalist movement presented as nostalgia but fueled by hate and repression. It is the subtlety but importance of that point that draws the parallel to the environment of the present day, and is why I’m suggesting that the statue be on display in the Museum of American History, representing that epoch that preceded the era you identify. The Woolworth lunch counter is that epoch’s symbol–a “counter” (pun intended) symbol, if you will, to what the Lee statue represents, and it’s why the two need to be experienced–together–as a reminder that history can and does repeat itself. We are, I believe, at the beginning of another one of those epochs that seems to visibly present itself in our country at least every 50 years…Civil War; 1917, 1967, 2017. I’m attempting to redress our collective (and future) ignorance, in other words.
      So, please–don’t “shut up.” Good ideas sharpen good ideas and make better ideas. I am engaged by, learn from and appreciate your ideas, and your very thoughtful critique and admonition.
      Jeffrey

  8. “Being human we all are ignorant, but we also are bearers of God’s image.” That is a great truth but such a challenging one.
    We are the only helping hands God has, the only embracing arms, the only eyes to weep with others, the only smiling mouth to encourage. We poor inadequate earthen vessels God entrusts to share him with our poor needy world.
    Dr. Bullock, what a tremendous statement to make to and for us, the University of Dubuque. Robert Farr, USNR V-12- 1943-45, college 1945.

    • Robert,
      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Would that we could all live the way you describe!
      Jeffrey

  9. Jeffrey,

    Thank you for writing this. I think your thoughts are very well written and I truly appreciate your stance. I am proud to live and work in Dubuque county and very proud that our University takes this stance. Thank you!

    • Johanna,
      Thank you for your comments and for reading the blog in the first place!!
      Jeffrey

  10. Dr. Bullock,
    I find the atmosphere on the UD Campus one that seems to bridge the divisions of our society and a healthy place to sow the seeds that will make a difference in many lives.
    Between 1969 and 1971, I was stationed in Alabama. I was called a “Damn Yankee” by a seemingly very nice southerner. He explained that to him that was always just one word and that he meant nothing by it. I also learned that uppity Blacks (not the word he used) came from the north and the blacks in the south “Knew their place.” My best friend in the service happened to be black and we spent many hours talking about problems I had little knowledge of coming from a small town in IL. I think the removal of symbols is important and a good “counter” to those feelings that still exist. We have a long way to go and we need to start today! Your example is needed and appreciated.

    • Jim,
      Thank you so much for reading this blog and for sharing your story. Wow! I can’t wait to hear more.
      Thank you for your engagement.
      Jeffrey

  11. Jeff, thank you for making a statement, as requested. I found your words and message well-said and welcome. Further, I appreciated all the responses to this Blog; both the thoughtful and the heartfelt.

    My son sent this message and hyperlink to me on August 17. He graduated from UD in 2015, traveled overseas five times with Alan Garfield, and I credit UD with completing his character as the compassionate and thoughtful adult he has become.

    “I saw this on the BBC and thought you should see it:

    Why the fuss over Confederate statues? – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-40966800

    My reply after viewing the fifteen-minute BBC report by Aleem Maqbool:

    “Thanks, Ethan. It was refreshing to see someone seeking and laying out positive things to do in order to help end racial prejudice.”

    “Last May, I couldn’t understand why the City of New Orleans was removing a Confederate statue; especially after Mom and I were so moved by the bravery, courage and commitment exhibited by both sides, as we visited the battlefields of Antietam/Sparksburg and at Gettysburg two months earlier, in March. So, I had heard a report that Mayor Mitch Landrieu had made a speech the day after the statue’s removal, explaining why he took that action. Here is a link to the entire speech: https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-avg-fh_lsonsw&hsimp=yhs-fh_lsonsw&hspart=avg&p=new+orleans+mayoral+speech+about+removal+of+confederate+statue#id=53&vid=4810c6c094bd33780607211fd1043094&action=click [ 7 minutes delivered on May 19, 2017 ]”

    “As a Yankee visitor to the South on a number of occasions, I think the statues of Confederate “heroes” should be relocated to more suitable locations, such as cemeteries and battlefields, for two reasons; first it is an offensive reminder of capture and slavery to many of our citizens, and secondly, the images are powerful inducements to people still fighting the War of Northern Aggression and angry at the federal government for lowering whites to the same status as blacks.
    Instead of succumbing to the counter-argument that these actions are an attempt to erase history and the culture of the South, ask them if there are any statues or monuments in America to other traitors, i.e. Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, John Wilkes Booth, Julius and Ethel Rosenburg, Tokyo Rose, etc.”

    “Perhaps removal should be based on when they were erected. Most went up at two critical points; immediately following the return of WWI black vets who were treated as equals in Europe (at least by the Europeans) and during the long Civil Rights struggles of the 50’s and 60’s. These statues only served to remind the blacks of who was in charge! To preserve the culture of the South, I surely would like to see all of the former slave markets branded with large signs and statues depicting the numerous and various kinds of atrocities inflicted by the fine white gentlemen and genteel ladies for 200 years before outlawed.”

    President Bullock, I would like to challenge your office and your audience to begin to address Race in America in the four positive actions prescribed in the BBC video:
    1) Criminal Justice Reform – as the statue at the U.S. Supreme Court shows, Justice should be blind to all but the facts and equally meted out
    2) Better Police Accountability – body cameras (with sound) for all interactions, sadly, may be needed everywhere
    3) Stop Talking About Racism – it is learned, not innate
    4) Monuments – What isn’t there!… mark all former slave markets, 4000 hanging trees, etc.

    • William,
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses, your links, and your challenge(s) to all of us. It is, fascinating, isn’t it, that the parts of our history of which we’re most ashamed are most often not “remembered” and should be. In addition to this topic, I think regularly of the nearly complete extermination of Native peoples. And, like you, I believe that they are conspicuous by their absence. We have a lot of work to do, for sure.

      On another note, I am so happy that you son was able to experience the travel abroad experiences with Professor Garfield. Yes…these trips build lasting friendships and break down many, many barriers. My family and I have participated in these trips, as well, and we’re always in awe of the entire experience.

      Thank you.

      Jeffrey

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