Andrews University Holds Summit on Race and Religion

Participants reflected on life experiences of Black students in the 1960s through the 1980s.

Andrew Francis, Andrews University
Andrews University Holds Summit on Race and Religion

The ninth Summit on Social Consciousness at Andrews University took place on the campus in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States, February 29 and March 2, 2024, under the theme, “Race. Religion. Reflections. Andrews University: The Institutional Saga (1960–1980).” Each of the gatherings featured a recorded interview followed by a panel reacting to the film. 

The summit explored the theme from three perspectives: Andrews University’s female employees; past and present student groups; and the voice of Seminary alumnus Alvin Kibble. At each session, attendees and participants discussed the lived experiences of individuals at Andrews University in the 1960s through the 1980s. 

The first segment of the Summit was titled “The Andrews Saga: Through the Eyes of Our Women.” The program centered on Hyveth Williams, director of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. Williams is the first Black female pastor and female senior pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 

In the video screening, Williams spoke of her call to ministry and how, in response to that call, she enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in 1986. 

After completing her master’s degree, Williams wished to further develop her skills and understanding of ministry, and therefore sought admission into the Doctor of Ministry program that the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary started in 1989. Despite being otherwise qualified, Williams was denied entrance into the program and told that it was only open to “ordained pastors who were men.” Williams then applied to and was accepted into the Boston University School of Theology doctoral program. 

After completing her Doctor of Ministry degree and serving as a successful pastor, Williams was asked to join the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in 2009 as a professor of homiletics. In a twist of irony and divine guidance, in 2022 Williams became the director of the Doctor of Ministry program, the same program to which she had been denied access. Williams celebrates the increase of women in Seminary and in more leadership roles in the Adventist Church. 

After the video was shown, a number of panelists discussed the film. Williams was joined by associate professor of communication Heather Thompson-Day, assistant vice president for Campus and Student/Resident Life Jennifer Burrill, and professor of English Meredith Jones Gray. Morgan Williams, an undergraduate student and executive vice president of the Andrews University Student Association (AUSA), moderated the discussion. Panelists highlighted other stories of women in the university’s history who dealt with situations of discrimination while also emphasizing the progress the university has made in developing a culture and climate for women to have equal opportunity to flourish in every area of life. 

The second program began at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday (Sabbath) morning in the Howard Performing Arts Center under the title “The Andrews Saga: Insights from Our Students.” It featured a video screening of “The BSCF Alumni Stories” and a collaborative worship service with the New Life Fellowship church. The video featured five Black alumni of Andrews from the late 1960s and early 1970s who were part of the first years of one of Andrews’ largest and most active student groups, the Black Student Christian Forum (BSCF). 

The alumni shared that although Andrews was a Christian college located in a rural community away from the major events of the Civil Rights Movement, they still experienced racism on campus. Among other difficult experiences, the alumni recounted their feelings about a cross-burning that took place on campus and the lack of response on the part of university administration. The administration made no statement to reassure Black students of their safety or to discourage repeat occurrences. There were actually three cross burnings on campus between 1969 and 1975. 

Desiring to build a worship community that better met their spiritual and social needs, students were motivated to develop BSCF. The club’s founding members worked to bring about greater representation among the faculty and staff and provide opportunities for students. They also started social and religious ministries on campus and in the town of Benton Harbor to help create positive change. 

Panelists again responded to the stories in the video. Christina Hunter, dean for Graduate Residence Life and associate dean for Student Life, acted as moderator. The panelists included Darius Bridges, assistant dean of Student Involvement, Leadership & Activities (SILA); Rock Choi, president of the Korean American Student Association (KASA); Loren Manrique, AUSA president; Hailay Prestes, AUSA social vice president; Skyler Campbell, BSCF president; Natasha Richards, president of the Black Students Association of the Seminary (BSAS); and Foluke Arthurton, president of the Andrews University Graduate Student Association (AUGSA). 

The panelists shared their admiration for the alumni featured in the video who have made cultural clubs such an important and impactful feature of campus. They shared how cultural clubs provide students with some semblance of their home lives and also provide opportunities to build strong friendships and get acquainted with different cultures. 

After the panel discussion concluded, the New Life Fellowship church held its service featuring Taurus Montgomery. Speaking from Galatians 3:26-29, Montgomery also used historical context in his sermon to illuminate how the status quo of intolerance has been a threat to true spirituality from the days of the Bible to the days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the modern day. He emphasized that identity in Christ must take precedence over every other. He added that Christians are called to develop a relationship with Christ so that they might have the “mind of Christ” mentioned in Philippians 2:5, which allows them to appreciate others with a Christ-like character. 

The final program of the weekend centered on the reflections of Alvin Kibble, who served as the vice president of the North American Division (NAD) of Seventh-day Adventists. Tragically, shortly after Kibble gave the video interview, he was hospitalized and later died on August 11, 2023

Kibble attended the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary from 1967 to 1969, where, he said, he “enjoyed learning from his professors.” Kibble’s reflections, while optimistic about the progress at Andrews, included several deeply moving stories. For example, when a Seminary professor at the time was asked about the origin of Black people, he responded by claiming that the Black race was “the amalgamation of man and beast.” An additional story took place in 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. When word reached the Andrews campus, Kibble recalled that a white student burst into the gymnasium, celebrating the civil rights icon’s death by announcing, “We got him!” 

The panel discussion after the video included Andrews University assistant professor of Mission and Intercultural Theology Andrew Tompkins, director of the Center for Adventist Research Kevin Burton, vice president of EDI and Poverty Reduction at TNG Community Services Morris Beckford, chair of Washington Adventist University’s Department of Religion Olive Hemmings, and Andrews University chair of the Department of Church History Trevor O’Reggio. 

The panelists acknowledged the lack of acceptance of minorities within the church, which, combined with their inextinguishable desire to follow the gospel, led to the development of regional conferences. 

Carlisle Sutton, sponsored research officer at Andrews and lead organizer for the weekend, shared, “We hope the summit helped to create a space where, as a community, we could have authentic conversations on difficult topics and learn to listen to each other. It is hard to argue with people’s lived experiences. The purpose of the grant is to create opportunities for minority voices to share their stories. We hope we did that respectfully as we consider the progress and challenges we face in building communities that prioritize belonging in 2024.” 

The themes of equal treatment for women and minorities, the organization’s influence on student life and culture, and the impact of racism on campus gave those in attendance an opportunity for meaningful reflection about how far Andrews has come as well as to commit to continuing the work of healing. 

Provost Christon Arthur, who started and oversees the Summit on Social Consciousness, led each of the programs on stage and urged the audience to contemplate two questions: “So what? Now what?” 

As part of the enduring outcomes of the CIC institutional saga grant, Andrews University plans to share the three videos from the summit as well as an earlier interview with professor Walter Douglas. 

The original version of this story was posted by Andrews University. 

Andrew Francis, Andrews University